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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why Obama’s Defense of Immigrants Matters

National Journal
By Rebecca Nelson
December 15, 2015

Pres­id­ent Obama speaks at a ce­re­mony grant­ing im­mig­rants Amer­ic­an cit­izen­ship every year. But in the shad­ow of heightened Is­lamo­pho­bia across the coun­try, he took the op­por­tun­ity Tues­day to make an ap­peal to Amer­ic­ans: Don’t re­peat the coun­try’s his­tory of pre­ju­dice.

From for­cing Afric­ans in­to slavery to dis­play­ing signs in New York City shops pro­claim­ing “No Ir­ish Need Ap­ply” to in­tern­ing Ja­pan­ese-Amer­ic­ans and im­mig­rants dur­ing World War II, “we haven’t al­ways lived up to” Amer­ic­an ideals, he said.

“We suc­cumbed to fear,” Obama said of those dark mo­ments in Amer­ic­an his­tory. “We be­trayed not only our fel­low Amer­ic­ans but our deep­est val­ues.”

But the “biggest irony,” he said, was that “those who be­trayed these val­ues were them­selves the chil­dren of im­mig­rants.

“How quickly we for­get. One gen­er­a­tion passes, two gen­er­a­tions pass, and sud­denly we don’t re­mem­ber where we came from. We sug­gest that some­how there is ‘us’ and there is ‘them,’ not re­mem­ber­ing we used to be them,” he said. “On days like today, we need to re­solve nev­er to re­peat mis­takes like that again.”

Stand­ing in front of the Con­sti­tu­tion at the Na­tion­al Archives, Obama took aim at the rising tide of in­tol­er­ance and anti-im­mig­rant fear. Though the ce­re­mony, which of­fi­cially gran­ted 31 can­did­ates U.S. cit­izen­ship, is an an­nu­al ritu­al that had been sched­uled for weeks, the polit­ic­al cli­mate around im­mig­rants, and Muslims in par­tic­u­lar, im­bued the event with re­newed sig­ni­fic­ance. For Obama, it was an op­por­tun­ity to counter Don­ald Trump’s xeno­phobic rhet­or­ic—and show the coun­try his com­mit­ment to keep­ing im­mig­ra­tion “at the core of our na­tion­al char­ac­ter.”

“The ten­sion throughout our his­tory between wel­com­ing or re­ject­ing the stranger, it’s about more than im­mig­ra­tion,” he said. “It’s about the mean­ing of Amer­ica. What kind of coun­try do we want to be?”

And he drew an ex­pli­cit ana­logy between dis­crim­in­a­tion of yore and today’s in­tol­er­ance.

“In the Mex­ic­an im­mig­rant today, we see the Cath­ol­ic im­mig­rant of a cen­tury ago,” he cau­tioned. “In the Syr­i­an seek­ing refuge today, we should see the Jew­ish refugee of World War II.”

After Don­ald Trump pro­posed a tem­por­ary ban on Muslim im­mig­ra­tion last week, he was roundly lam­basted. But nearly six in 10 Re­pub­lic­an voters said they sup­por­ted the ban, ac­cord­ing to an ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll. At the same time, Is­lamo­pho­bia is on the rise: Among stacks of hate mail and count­less threats in the weeks since the Par­is and San Bern­ardino ter­ror­ist at­tacks, mosques have been the tar­get of hate crimes from Phil­adelphia to South­ern Cali­for­nia.

So it was cru­cial Tues­day for Obama to “help to ad­vance what we have known to be truly Amer­ic­an ideals” through both his words and the sym­bol­ism of simply be­ing there, said Bill Bur­ton, the pres­id­ent’s former deputy press sec­ret­ary. 

“This pres­id­ent, just like all pres­id­ents, has a spe­cial role to play in na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions,” Bur­ton said. “And I think un­der­scor­ing what Amer­ic­an val­ues are in the face of the in­tol­er­ance that’s be­ing pro­jec­ted by Don­ald Trump is im­port­ant.”

Amer­ic­ans, he said, are “look­ing for the adult in the con­ver­sa­tion to step up” to bat against Trump’s trenchant brand of nativ­ism.

Obama hasn’t shied away from that duty. Last week, at a Cap­it­ol Hill ce­re­mony to com­mem­or­ate the 13th Amend­ment—which ab­ol­ished slavery—he vig­or­ously con­demned bigotry. Though he didn’t men­tion Trump by name, his tar­get was ap­par­ent when he urged Amer­ic­ans “to re­mem­ber that our free­dom is bound up with the free­dom of oth­ers. Re­gard­less of what they looked like or where they come from or what their last name is, or what faith they prac­tice.”

The last three nat­ur­al­iz­a­tion ce­re­mon­ies that Obama has at­ten­ded were also marked by ex­pli­citly polit­ic­al calls for ac­tion. Rather than ap­peals to tol­er­ance, though, the pres­id­ent pushed for im­mig­ra­tion re­form, re­mind­ing the new cit­izens in 2014 that the im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem was “broken” and stress­ing the im­port­ance of passing “com­mon-sense” re­form.

On Tues­day, the 224th an­niversary of the rat­i­fic­a­tion of the Bill of Rights, he urged the 31 new cit­izens to look out for their fel­low Amer­ic­ans.

“We must re­solve to al­ways speak out against hatred and bigotry in all of its forms, wheth­er taunts against the child of an im­mig­rant farm work­er, or threats against a Muslim shop­keep­er,” he said. “We are Amer­ic­ans. Stand­ing up for each oth­er is what the val­ues en­shrined in the doc­u­ments in this room com­pels us to do, es­pe­cially when it’s harder. Es­pe­cially when it’s not con­veni­ent. That’s when it counts.”

For more information, go to:  www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com

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