Between the American dream and a nightmare: The fight for the moral conscience of America

Immigration building at Ellis Island, NY.

It's a good thing the Minutemen, those self-proclaimed guardians of our nation's borders, weren't around in the early 1600s. Otherwise, they would probably have given the Pilgrims the boot right back to Europe.

The Pilgrims brought no documents giving them permission to enter the land of Native Americans. But instead of a steel fence and intimidation, they were met by men and women who not only welcomed them, but also helped them survive the worst winter they had ever endured. This hospitality and openness still pervades the American national character, with minute exceptions.

We celebrate these undocumented immigrants and their welcome by Native Americans each year during Thanksgiving.

Native Americans were generous people. It was Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims how to tap maple trees for sap, how to differentiate between poisonous and medicinal plants, and how to plant corn and other crops.

Native Americans represent the generosity that has remained a part of the American Dream in allowing wave after wave of immigrants into America.

Although "the Pilgrims and the Indians," story includes historical distortions, as well as racial and cultural stereotypes, as a myth and historical anecdote, it serves to symbolize America's promise to immigrants.

The American Dream was enhanced when Americans stood in support of the rights of African-Americans. It was also the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which questioned America's race-based immigration policy. As a result, America became better. People of color also benefited from the changes in immigration laws. The Green Card Lottery is an exercise in publicizing this American Dream to the world. HR 4437 eliminates this most successful public diplomacy program called Diversity Immigrant Visa.

However, the virtual annihilation of Native Americans, the slave trade, and the current exploitation of undocumented workers represent the cruelty of America. The current raids on Latino workers by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement symbolizes that cruelty. It is making 12 million undocumented people criminals when in reality, they are in legal limbo. Congress is currently in the process of deciding their fate.

America cannot imprison and deport 12 million undocumented workers. Our choice is limited essentially to two options. The first is to keep them as a cheap labor, exploit them through a mix of harassment and low wages as a part of "plantation capitalism," a term used by Rev. Lawson, a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. This is a cruel option. The second choice is to provide an honorable path to the undocumented to become citizens. This is the path of the American Dream that is celebrated every Thanksgiving.

If America wants to remain competitive in the global economy, it will have to be honest in its promise of the American Dream for all people. Immigrants must be considered assets for America not liabilities, as the Minutemen's mentality dictates.

The new immigrant movement of America has a chance to help the United States enhance its dream once again for all people.

For that purpose, the movement must include in its program the fight against another cruelty endured on a daily basis in our country. This is in our criminal justice system.

It is about time that the new marching immigrants remember their debt to the civil rights movement of the sixties so that America can become a more humane place for 2 million of its prisoners and 3 million others who are victims of its justice system, which has always punished African-Americans more harshly for the same crimes by Whites.

The movement has just begun. Latinos are doing a favor to America by launching it. All people of conscience must join. Americans of all races and colors, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists must all stand up and let a Native American lead us with her open arms and generosity.

I pray that the American Dream wins.

It will go only as far as we will.  Let's all march together.

I will be marching along with millions on May 1, 2007 for the conscience of America.

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