America: A Land Built Through Immigration

America: A Land Built by ImmigrantsEditor’s note: This post is part of a series on immigration leading up to our Twitter Talk on February 13 at 9pm EST with Emmy-winning journalist Jorge Ramos. To take part in the conversation, follow #CountryForAll on Twitter.

When it first captured the national imagination, the word “immigrant” used to conjure up dreamy images of pilgrims braving the uncharted waters of the Atlantic Ocean, or throngs of foreigners crowded onto a ship’s deck, craning to get their first look at Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the very symbols of the hope, wonder and vision of the American Dream. But in the latter part of the 20th century, as more diverse populations began settling in this so-called “land of opportunity,” the word began taking on a decidedly more negative, less dreamy connotation.

Even as the national sentiment has grown less friendly to the individuals who have helped build its very fabric, one thing that definitely hasn’t changed is most immigrants’ faith in the American dream. This year, those hopes and dreams are stepping an inch closer to finally being realized. Turns out, the roar of the Latino community has finally lit a fire under both of our nation’s political parties.

In a bipartisan move that shocked—well, no one after last year’s elections—members of both major political parties, including Senators McCain, Durbin, Menendez and Rubio, held a press conference this past Monday to announce their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), a long-time supporter of reform, calls the proposal is “a positive first step,” but adds that “the true test of our congressional leadership will be to pass a comprehensive bill. With bipartisan support building in both houses of Congress and a President who is eager to solve this issue, there’s no reason we should not pass comprehensive immigration reform immediately.”

Framing it as a vital factor for the country’s economy, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), another long time supporter of the measure, said he’s “the most optimistic I’ve been in quite some time” about it finally becoming a reality.

Read Related: Has Meaningful Immigration Reform Finally Arrived?

So should Latinos be as optimistic? Is this proposal the answer to the collective prayers that 11 million people have been waiting for all this time?

The good news: While no “free lunch,” (applicants would have to pass a background check, learn English and essentially get to the back of the “applicant’s line”), the proposal does offer a path to citizenship. Hey, the senators didn’t say it was “tough but fair” for nothing. The proposal also calls for measures with varying levels of difficulty depending on the applicant’s background, i.e. high tech and other types of workers would have a separate set of requirements, as would Dreamers. (For the full proposal, click here.)

While this brings a glimmer of hope to all of us who are either immigrants ourselves or have family and friends in that situation (and who doesn’t?), there are still questions as to interpretation and future implementation of certain passages. For instance, what exactly does “Border Security Measures” including “unmanned aerial vehicles and other surveillance equipment and adding border law enforcement agents” mean? Does it mean drones, like the ones they use to monitor terrorist sites? Does an “effective employment verification system” mean more workplace raids? And how would these measures affect future low-skilled immigrants?

While we wait for more detailed explanations for questions like these, and for President Obama’s own immigration proposal, one thing I do hope is that all decision-making parties remember that we’re not just talking about blind statistical numbers here: we’re talking about human beings, who deserve humane treatment. Behind every single penny out of the $1.5 trillion that the legalization of 11 million+ immigrants would contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product over the next decade, there is a living, breathing person looking to make this country better.

Just like their Pilgrim, Jewish, Polish, Irish and Italian predecessors, today’s immigrants came to America because they believe that here and here alone, there’s a chance to attain the life they envision for themselves and their families. True reform would mean their hearts, their hopes, their vision of the American Dream won’t be once again shattered by the dark clouds of prejudice, indifference or worse, political warfare.

I also hope that those of us who are not in the branches of government remember that we Latinos also have a say in how these laws shape up. Let’s continue to raise our voices, to rally and protest and pressure our representatives. We can’t rest until we’re sure that the country’s laws give our friends, relatives, neighbors and young Dreamers the chance to solidify their rightly place in this ever-evolving America, a nation built by immigrants.

Join the Conversation: Mamiverse Welcomes Award-Winning Journalist Jorge Ramos for Live Twitter-Talk on Immigration Reform

A Country for All-Jorge Ramos