The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth is a fitting moment to ponder the state of our fractious and fractured nation of immigrants. Ending his First Inaugural Address, President Lincoln spoke prophetically in words that could well describe the path America must pursue if the deep divide over immigration policy is ever to be bridged:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
The hate speech and hate crimes, the demonization of immigrants by some, cannot be allowed to represent to the world the values that America holds dear. The hypocrisy and prejudice of non-native nativists, whose forebears displaced the indigenous peoples of North America, cannot be permitted to stanch the lifeblood of this country, its ever-vibrant tradition of renewal and reinvention through immigration.
The justifiable fears of many Americans about an economy run amok ought not blind us to the manifold contributions to our prosperity that immigrants have always made and, if permitted, will continue to make. Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express put the point eloquently to New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman:
Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.
Others among our better celestial spirits, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, held a press conference with Members of Congress on Feb. 11 to announce the launch of the campaign for “Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration” and to publish its Interfaith Platform on Humane Immigration Reform. Serendipitously, the secular Migration Policy Institute just released a scholarly report and 36 recommendations on how our broken immigration system can be repaired and made to function.
Whether the motivation be a hard-nosed pragmatism founded on dollars and sense, a faith-based commitment (reflected in Bruce and Judy Hake's article, The Scriptural Foundations Of An Open Immigration Policy, and Rev. Joan M. Maruskin's accompanying compilation of passages from the Koran), or the studied views of respected immigration policy experts, the time is now to vivify President Lincoln's profoundly humane and practical vision for America.
Immigration reform cannot wait for a more appropriate day. With courage in Congress, the White House and among the American people, comprehensive immigration reform will sooner than later be enacted, so that we can "yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely [we] will be, by the better angels of our nature."