Thumbnail image for rainbow arc.jpgAll of us at times become dispirited.  

As I’ve viewed immigration over the last 40 years, passionate advocates have come and gone, fortunate foreign citizens have been granted green cards and then naturalized; but the harshness and hard-heartedness of immigration law as a reflection of American cultural norms hasn’t really diminished.

For example, back in the 1980s I set a personal goal (to help end consular absolutism and introduce a measure of fairness into the visa process). In this, I have utterly failed, and have at times trended toward despondency.

Although some of the State Department’s power has shifted to Homeland Security, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has defended the prerogatives of consular officers like a hyper-vigilant Tiger Mom. Despite many articles, blog posts, ABA and AILA resolutions, and open-mike challenges at State Department public forums, visa refusals based on the decisions of consular officers on questions of fact remain virtually unassailable, as a March 28, 2013 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals painfully affirmed.

But occasional discouragement is not  surrender.  As Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds and emboldens us, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Developments this past week in American immigration have proved him right.

On Friday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed to pay $1 million in settlement to a group of plaintiffs for early-morning home raids that terrorized their children. Adriana Aguilar, a U.S. citizen and the lead plaintiff, described the pain that jack-booted action by federal officers caused:

My son, who was just four years old, was crying in fear of gunmen in his home at four in the morning . . . We asked them to show a warrant or any other authority they had for being inside our home. They ignored us.

Earlier in the week, the Associated Press announced that it would no longer include the term, “illegal immigrant,” in its authoritative Stylebook – the journalist’s bible. According to its Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, the move is part of an ongoing effort by the AP to rid the Stylebook of labels (thus, schizophrenic is replaced by person afflicted with schizophrenia).   As she explained:

It’s kind of a lazy device that those of us who type for a living can become overly reliant on as a shortcut . . . It ends up pigeonholing people or creating long descriptive titles where you use some main event in someone’s life to become the modifier before their name.

Unpacking the AP move, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and a panel of thoughtful analysts offered a “MUST-WATCH” in-depth assessment of just how profound this arc-bending action in dropping the “illegal” slur is.  The panel likened the groundswell of opposition pressuring the AP on its use of the shortcuts, “illegals” and “illegal immigrant,” to the lunchroom sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement, when “colored” people were charged with illegality by virtue of geography, punished for where they sat on the planet or in the diner (or in the case of aspiring Americans, on the wrong side of a border):

 

 

Within hours of the AP change — even faster than the two days after the Republican debacle at the polls it took Sean Hannity to flip on legalization – the New York Times responded in kind.  Through its Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan (who last October declined to recommend any such change because readers wouldn’t benefit), the Grey Lady announced that ”for the past couple of months, [theTimes] has also been considering changes to its stylebook entry on this term and will probably announce them to staff members this week.”

The last big thing came to view yesterday. The New York Times posted an obituary announcing the death on March 17 of Lawrence H. Fuchs. I didn’t know or remember Mr. Fuchs, but the headline describing him as “Expert on Immigration,” caught my eye. The obit alerted me to the seminal role he played leading up to the Reagan-era legalization program, describing him as “a federal government adviser [who in 1986] helped lay the groundwork for the last major overhaul of American immigration law.”

Embarrassed about my unfamiliarity with Mr. Fuchs, and curious too, I Googled his name and found the preface to one of his books on Amazon. What he wrote there made me realize that immigration reform has already begun, that the great cultural integration of which he speaks began again — like unseen swirls in the tide of change, cresting into huge waves bigger than Sandy — on November 8:

Since the Second World War the national unity of Americans has been tied increasingly to a strong civic culture that permits and protects expressions of ethnic and religious diversity based on individual rights and that also inhibits and ameliorates conflict among religious, ethnic, and racial groups. It is the civic culture that unites Americans and protects their freedom—including their right to be ethnic. . . .

The system would not be severely tested as long as most immigrants were English or Scots. The new republic, as George Washington said in his farewell address, was united by “the same religion, manners, habits and political principles.” But differences in religion, habit, and manners proliferated after the immigration of large numbers of Germans (many of whom were Catholic), Scandinavians and Irish Catholics throughout the last sixty years of the nineteenth century, and of eastern old southern Europeans, a majority of whom were Catholic or Jewish, in the decade before and after the turn of the twentieth. Political principles remained the core of national community. The new immigrants entered a process of ethnic-Americanization through participation in the political system, and, in so doing, established even more dearly the American civic culture as a basis of American unity.

The difference between 1990 (when Mr. Fuchs wrote, The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture) and now is that this time the acculturation occurred in reverse. Americans except on paper — the DREAMers — “established even more dearly the American civic culture as a basis of American unity” in a way that forced our language to adapt and their parents and themselves to be relieved of the smear “illegal.” The revolution was not just televised, it was also publicized . . . by the Associated Press.

So watch out State.  I’ve got my metaphorical bow and quiver, and I’m still shooting arcing arrows of justice at consular absolutism!