November 21, 2014
Last night, President Obama announced that he will use his executive authority to take the first significant steps toward fixing what has become an increasingly dysfunctional national immigration policy. As with climate and energy policy, he has not done all that is needed, but as much as he believes he can. In the face of a Congress that routinely passes on opportunities to do anything constructive, and political ideologues who cry foul before the ball is even in play, Obama is determined to do his job.
Why should the Sierra Club care about this latest announcement? For the same reasons anyone should care. Because (again, just as with climate disruption) fixing this problem is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. What kind of society forces millions of people -- people who are essential to its functioning -- to live in the shadows?
Policy debates tend toward abstraction and depersonalization. One side talks about "illegal aliens" and the other about "undocumented workers." Really, though, we're talking about people. People just like us. They are moms and dads. They're uncles, aunts, and grandparents. They may love to dance, to hike, or to spend Sunday afternoons at a big family picnic. Their kids play with ours in the schoolyard. We sit together in the same movie theatres and at our churches, mosques, and synagogues.
One thing is different for them, though. When we look to see who is being hurt most by pollution, our nation's immigrants are the people we usually find on the front lines. Their communities are not only among the most exploited and abused by polluters but also among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate disruption and extreme weather. Yet they have been denied even the most basic protections that would allow them to speak up and seek justice.
That millions of families in this country should never feel truly safe is both unconscionable and un-American.
Beyond the issue of justice, though, Obama is helping to restore something that has always been essential to the character and achievement of our nation. Immigrants do not want to be a burden -- they want to contribute. In the past, we were proud of that fact and those contributions. When the Sierra Club was founded 122 years ago, at least 20 of our 182 original members were immigrants -- including, of course, John Muir himself. Some of them had come to the U.S. because it was a land of opportunity. Some were fleeing political upheavals. All of them, though, were proud contributors to their adopted country.
After six years of waiting in vain for Congress to act, President Obama has taken an important and necessary first step toward offering temporary relief for undocumented families. In doing so, he is enabling millions of people to make their own contributions to this country by removing the threat of deportation and family separation. The result will be an America that is more diverse, more fair, and all the stronger for it.