WASHINGTON, D.C. – This month marks the 25th anniversary of President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act, which allowed almost 2.7 million undocumented immigrants to legalize their status. Reagan’s policy was based on a view that the United States is a land of immigrants; that immigrants should not be exploited; that if legalized, they would contribute even more to the economy.
To mark the anniversary, Service Employees International Union International Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina wrote:
“President Reagan, an iconic figure in American politics, approached the immigration issue with values and economic sensibilities that are now being rejected by his own Republican Party. Not only are these politicians casting aside the Reagan legacy they once embraced, they also are turning their backs on millions of Latinos whose parents, relatives and friends may have earned legal status and become citizens as a direct result of the Reagan law.
“Rather than demonize immigrants, we ask politicians to consider the contributions of immigrants to our economy and culture.
“We are familiar with the great successes of Latinos who came to the U.S. without proper documents or whose parents were undocumented. Former NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez, who is now running for Congress in California, is the son of two former undocumented immigrants. Doctor Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a highly regarded brain surgeon and researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., jumped fences at the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a better life, even if it meant working as a field hand. Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer” also was an undocumented immigrant.
“Grammy Award winner Luis Enrique specifically cites the Reagan law for permitting him and his family to end their undocumented status that began in 1978 when they fled the political upheaval in their native Nicaragua. ‘I am an example of what is possible and I want to believe that now it is more possible than ever,’ Enrique said in Washington recently.
“These are just a few examples of the contributions and entrepreneurship that immigrants bring to the U.S.
“Another naturalized citizen who gained legal status as a result of the Reagan immigration bill is Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, an initiative which works to turn legal immigrants into citizens and voters. Ben, a native of Guatemala, also works tirelessly on behalf of immigrant rights.
“[This month], the government of Guatemala [presented] Ben the medal of the Order Quetzal, the highest award granted to Guatemalans, for his continuing work to ensure labor rights and fair treatment of Guatemalans in the U.S.
“Meanwhile, the work of Mi Familia Vota and other partners is paying off. In the 2008 election, Latinos made up 9 percent of all voters and proved to be the deciding factor in key states. In 2012, the number of Latino voters will be even greater in key states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Florida.
“President Reagan did not fear demographic and political changes caused by immigrants as his party does now. Immigration is our past and our future, and we must work to update the system and legalize it so that it works for the benefit of all Americans.
“Another President, John F. Kennedy, once noted that immigration ‘gave every old American a standard by which to judge how far he had come and every new American a realization of how far he might go.’ President Reagan showed the same faith in the evolution of American society, and we remain hopeful that immigration opponents will come to realize that as well.”
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