Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama addresses supporters in Golden, Colorado, on September 16, 2008. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NOTE: I wrote this commentary in November of 2015 for my first blog, The Virtual Columnist, a site begun as an English and Spanish language forum. Because of fortunate adjustments to the content, that site has become a successful Spanish only blog with a growing following throughout the Americas and Spain.
Dear Mr. President:
I am sure you still have a lot on your plate as you approach the final year of your presidency. Some of it, I hope, has to do with the stuff you promised when we the people elected you to run our country in 2008. There’s other stuff, for sure, and more of it will come as you close the book on your two terms in office. Judging by your past performance, character and style, I feel that you will work on your legacy until there is no more time left on the clock.
That is why I am writing this letter to you, Mr. President, hoping that you still have the commitment to continue to tackle an issue that is very dear to my heart. I am talking about the need to immediately address comprehensive immigration reform. After all, you promised to do something about it during your first presidential campaign. To be fair, you have taken some positive steps in the matter, but they haven’t been enough.
Before continuing with the immigration reform issue, let me tell you some positive stuff. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve done some formidable things as President. First of all, you and other Americans under you leadership, turned around the economy. We must never forget that months before you took the helm of the nation in January 2009, our country was on the brink of another Great Depression. We averted that disaster and we’re doing well now. That’s a fact that no one can deny.
The health care act is another accomplishment. You got it done. We had needed universal health care for a long time. Ted Kennedy fought for it; the Clintons did too. Kennedy once called it “the great unfinished business of our country, our society.” President Clinton tried to get it passed in the early nineteen-nineties, but he failed. There were too many folks opposing his plan: Republicans, the health care industry, doctors, even folks from the same party like Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Imagine, folks opposed to bringing health care to all of the people.
Before returning to the immigration issue, I would like to thank you for appointing Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the highest court in the land. She’s one of my role models. She’s a jewel. Bright, dedicated, focused. Accomplished. What a Horatio Alger story she is, though played in real life by a woman.
If we were truly a color-blind society or were beyond judging some people based on their ethnic background or lived in a utopian, advanced world where all the people were only judged by the content of their character, their credentials, and their brilliance, her appointment would be commonplace. But we’re not there yet. Thank you again Mr. President for selecting such well-rehearsed judge to serve in the highest court. Thank you for choosing Judge Sotomayor, someone that has already shown her tenacity and brilliance in the court, interpreting constitutional law through the eyes and mind of someone with a different socio-economic experience and ethnic background and by a Latina who has repeatedly proven her legal intellect. “Una gran boricua.”
Back to the issue at hand, I would like to recall an event when I first heard you speak in person. It was in mid-July 2008, at a San Diego National Council of La Raza convention and Latino expo. You were on the campaign trail. During your speech, you talked about change and about the system not working. Yours were old words, phrases you had used before during the primaries. They were good words, though. Passionate statements about organizing our communities from the bottom up and getting our government to work for us, to get the system to work for us.
“The system isn’t working when communities are terrorized by ICE immigrations raids,” you said. “When nursing mothers are torn from their babies. When children come home from school to find their parents missing.” It was a good speech. It got me. You connected with me.
“When people are detained without access to legal counsel,” you continued. “When all that’s happening, the system isn’t working and we need to change it.”
Unfortunately, more than seven years later, the system is still not working, not for some of us. ICE immigration raids are still terrorizing communities. Millions of our brothers and sisters are still living in the shadows, exploited by many in corporate America and others, working for dismal wages, under subhuman conditions.
To be fair, I admit, a reform initiative must come from Congress. But I don’t expect much from that group of representatives of the people. They often care more about getting reelected and pandering to their narrow bases than fixing the problems that need fixing in our country. Don’t care much about them and don’t expect much from them because most of those in the House and the Senate don’t know me or know about my needs and the needs of others who are like me.
So I lean on you, Mr. President, to convince Congress to act on immigration reform. You need to press that body of government (of all of the people) to do its job and to tackle the issue. Make it a high priority in your agenda. Fight, fight for its passage. Curse Congress if you might. But fight, fight again and again until it gets done. And please, like the poet said, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”*
*With apologies to Dylan Thomas