The Houston Chronicle
Marcia and Mike Nichols
January 7, 2012
Immigration reform is today's civil rights issue. Just as segregation was a dying institution in the 1960s, our current unjust and unenforceable immigration policies will one day cease to exist. In addition to the moral issues supporting immigration reform, there are significant economic reasons to demand reform of our broken immigration system.
When four little girls were murdered while preparing for Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, a Birmingham lawyer, Charles Morgan, concluded that not only the racist bombers were guilty, but also the citizens who remained silent.
They remained silent in the face of the enforcement of unjust segregation laws, of police brutality against and incarceration of nonviolent African-Americans and civil rights protesters, of employer abuse of African-American employees, of acceptance of second-rate schools and social services, and of the incessant loud voices (particularly on the radio) of prejudice against African-Americans.
On the day following the bombing that killed the four children, Morgan wrote:
"We are a mass of intolerance and bigotry, and stand indicted before our young," he said. "We are cursed by the failure of each of us to accept responsibility, by our defense of an already dead institution…. Every person in this community who has in any way contributed during the past several years to the popularity of hatred is at least as guilty as the demented fool who threw the bomb."
While the white citizens of Birmingham were waging their losing war against civil rights reform, the citizens of Atlanta were led by a mayor who said, "Atlanta was a city too busy to hate." Because Atlanta embraced change and found workable and fair solutions, Atlanta grew and prospered to become the economic hub of the South and a major league city, while Birmingham deteriorated economically and eventually lost tens of thousands jobs and residents, remaining a minor league city in every sense.
We, in Texas, like the citizens of Alabama, will lose out economically if we do not alter short-range economic thinking. Remember, in 1955, Birmingham and Houston had the same population and competed for businesses and residents.
The United States is currently involved in a complicated and conflictive moment regarding immigration. While the federal government maintains definitive authority related to issues of citizenship and naturalization, some states, such as Alabama and Arizona, are adopting short-sighted, sometimes draconian methods of dealing with undocumented workers. The U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue during the 2012 court session. Texas is in a unique position to develop a responsible and proactive model for the estimated 1.7 million undocumented residents currently living in our state and without whom our state economy would collapse.
Under the auspices of the American Jewish Committee's Bridging America Task Force, a diverse group of Texans has been meeting for several years, discussing and assessing the long-term economic consequences of our state because of the failure to implement effective policies for our undocumented workers.
On Tuesday, an immigration summit coordinated by AJC's Bridging America Task Force and Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research will be held on the Rice campus.
The presenters will be some of our state's experts in the fields of business, law enforcement, health care, education and social services. Hopefully, by learning the facts and separating the fears and fiction associated with the immigration issue, the participants can respond effectively to both the challenges and opportunities of today's immigrant experience.
We believe and advocate for fair and generous treatment of immigrants and policies that bolster our national security. We support immigration reforms that: will allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to come out of the shadows, pay back taxes and appropriate fines, pass a background check, and ultimately legalize their status; and, on a forward-looking basis, provide for a better organized immigration system that offers legal channels for immigrants to enter the United States, including more legal work visas and more visas for immigrant families.
As individuals and as a community, we are engaged because:
If you would like to join us for the summit please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Immigrants enrich this nation economically and culturally. A fair and generous immigration policy reflects our highest values and is an affirmation of the founding principles of this country;
- Depriving immigrants - or any class of people - in our county of full and equal rights inevitably tears at the social fabric of this nation, generates anger and resentment and risks similar injustices toward others.
Marcia and Mike Nichols are co-chairs of the Immigration Summit. Residents of Houston for more than three decades, Mike serves on the Immigration Task Force of the Greater Houston Partnership and AJC's national Immigration Task Force.