The 100 Days after MLK Day

With the penultimate Franco statute just pulled down in Santander three weeks ago, Espana continues its progressive immigration reform by allowing some 500,000 descendants of Spaniards who fled their homes when Francisco Franco came to power. Some of these families haven’t been back to Spain since they sought refuge in 1936, the start of the three-year-civil war. 70 years later, Spain is making good on its citizens.

Since Franco died in 1975, Spain has been on a commendable journey to establish itself as a leader in human rights. Spain currently has one of the most liberal and welcoming immigration policies in the world, and their economy has rebounded because of it. Current Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has instated many programs such as this repatriation plan. This legislation hold particular significance for him and all of Spain; Zapatero’s own grandfather was executed by Franco’s regime. (“Spain Declares 500,000 Eligible for Citizenship”)

This coming Monday, President-elect Barack Obama meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. While NAFTA and the Merida Initiative (a multinational program the US funds to help curb drug-trafficking in Latin American countries) will certainly be high on the topics list, immigration must be discussed in earnest. Though it was a hot topic in the nomination process, Obama and McCain shied away from the issue in their debates and stump speeches. 70% of Latinos voted for Obama, illustrating, among other things, their belief that he will be able to address immigration issues in a human and comprehensive way.

As Jorge Casteneda recently wrote in an eloquent New York Times editorial, Bush’s two terms truly represent a nadir in American immigration policy. With the consolidation of multiple agencies into DHS (Department of Homeland Security), there are fewer checks and balances to ensure the human rights of immigrants. The deluge of detentions, spendy deportations, elaborate raids, and futile border-wall construction is indicative of a department that lacks an E-Brake.

Despite some of George W. Bush’s laudable efforts to inspire immigration reform in Congress in 2001, 2004, 2006, and 2007, few positive changes were made to make immigration policy more humane or most efficient. Wait times at border crossings are longer than ever, the current wall has only diverted traffic to more dangerous areas and techniques, and legal immigration channels are more and more clogged due to unresponsive immigration laws that fail to reflect contemporary patterns of human migration.

In his article, Castaneda astutely notes that presidents have rarely been successful with immigration reform unless they led with this policy at the height of their power. It is the prayer of millions across these United States, not the least of whom are the 12 million unauthorized immigrants waiting for recognition and a chance to live life with rights and visibility, that Obama will campaign for humane changes in immigration during the first 100 days of his term. As Castaneda writes, this would “…say to the rest of the world that, on his watch, the United States will not build fences, deport mothers without their children, nor persecute foreigners. He can do all this with just a stroke of his pen.” (“Call Off the Immigration Hunt”) These United States, and indeed the entire world, wait to see what will happen the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2009.

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