Dear Mr. President,
As South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, joined the ancestors and caused the world to pause on Thursday, Dec. 5, I could not help but remember his profound words, including those from the speech of 2002 at the 90th birthday celebration of Walter Sisulu, a South African anti-apartheid activist and member of the African National Congress.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead,” Mandela said.
Today, as I write this column, my thoughts are on those words as it pertains to the many advocates and immigrants across this country who continue to fight, like the late great Mandiba, for what they believe in: a better life for those millions of undocumented immigrants trapped in a system that refuses to provide a real solution to the problem of illegal immigration in the United States.
More and more, the Republican Party, especially its chief in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, is appearing like the National Party government, the former apartheid governments of South Africa—uncaring, callous, indifferent and definitely discriminatory to 11 million-plus people trapped in a system as families continue to be torn apart and many more die at the borders or in detention facilities across the country.
Boehner can end this travesty with one vote, much like F.W. de Klerk ended apartheid as president in 1990. But so far, he has chosen to ignore the many Mandelas of the immigration reform movement, keeping them, along with the 11 million, in a “jail” that at times seems harsher than steel bars. What kind of life is it to wake up each day in fear of being ripped apart from your family simply because you sought a better life for them and ended up living in a country that fails to offer any pathway to legalization?
How can a child cope and face the holidays when they are essentially orphaned by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency after it has snatched their father or mother away? How can businesses who need immigrant labor because the jobs they offer are not what Americans want find the labor to continue shipping fruit and vegetables to markets nationally and globally or to keep Silicon Valley running?
As Caribbean American Rep. Yvette D. Clarke reminded us this week after visiting with the fasters on the National Mall: “There are thousands and thousands of families in the community I represent who are threatened with deportation. These are real families—mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—who are living with the risk of separation and, in some instances, permanent separation.
“Until we have comprehensive reform of a failed system of immigration, we cannot in good faith allow the often irrevocable harm of deportation to continue. With each day, we deport more than 1,000 people who could potentially become citizens.”
Now, with days left on the calendar in the U.S. House, which wraps up on Friday, Dec. 13, will Boehner be Santa Claus or the Grinch who stole Christmas again for many immigrants? Let’s pray the spirit of Mandela awakens something in him, like it did in Ted Cruz, and he moves, despite criticism, to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote before Friday the 13th!
Felicia Persaud, CMO of Hard Beat Communications, which owns the brands News Americas Now, aribPR Wire and Invest Caribbean Now.