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Friday, August 17, 2007

Portland Mayor Tom Potter comments on Immigration Reform

Portland Mayor Tom Potter comments on Immigration Reform in The Oregonian Newspaper's August 12th "In My Opinion" section.

In My Opinion: Immigration Reform
By Tom Potter

August 12, 2007
The Oregonian

On the heels of its recent failed attempt at immigration reform, the Bush Administration has decided to crack down on employers who hire workers using false Social Security numbers, and step up the number of workplace raids like the one at the Fresh Del Monte plant in June that put 165 Portlanders in jail.

In the wake of the Del Monte raid, I said “Our nation would be better served if this kind of energy was focused on creating a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship; addresses the immigration backlog that keeps families apart; and provides a safe and legal way for workers to enter our country and be productive workers and taxpayers.”

I still believe that is the only sane solution, and the sooner we begin the sooner our country and our community can begin healing the damage done by a few on the political fringes whose rhetoric too often relies on the same ugly questions of race that are stirred up against each succeeding wave of immigrants.

And I don’t believe any of this has to do with protecting American jobs or workers’ rights. The AFL-CIO has said the new rules “would harm all workers regardless of (immigration) status.” I agree.

What has to happen now is for good people to get involved and take the debate out of the hands of the talk shows whose main interest seems to be selling fear along with advertising time. I’m not na├»ve, and I don’t believe this will be easy. When I spoke up in June, the silence that followed was deafening. Many people whom I respect sat on their hands - and their principles - and said nothing.

I don’t think our community can afford that silence any longer.

I remember watching the TV 40 years ago as demonstrators in the South were beaten as they tried to register to vote. I think Americans everywhere saw those same images and said out loud to themselves, to their families and their neighbors: That’s not me. Those aren’t my values. That’s not the world I want for my children.

The changes to our society that followed didn’t come easy, and we are still struggling to find our way. But those events pushed us to begin talking honestly with each other about who we are as a nation, about our belief in human dignity, and about what kind of country we want to pass along to the next generation.

That conversation was nurtured by real leaders who stepped forward, speaking powerfully from the pulpit or quietly around dinner tables, at work and where neighbors gathered to talk. Now, because history indeed repeats itself, it is clear we need to once again have a discussion as a country about who we are, and how we treat the people who live among us.

I believe more leaders in our faith community need to come forward and not only speak of compassion and fairness from the pulpit, but lead conversations with those in their pews about how to apply those same values to the everyday truth of what it means to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

We need political leaders to stand up and address the economic realities of millions of immigrants who are an intrinsic part of our work force and a valued mainstay of industries from agriculture to food service to construction. They aren’t a threat to American workers – the real threat is the failure of our society to ensure a living wage and affordable health care for everyone; to invest in education and job training that prepares U.S. workers for the global economy; to create affordable housing and stand up for every employees’ right to organize. And we can’t avoid this conversation much longer. As the Oregonian recently reported, almost all of our new neighbors are Latino – 94 percent of the population growth in Multnomah County since 2000 has been Hispanic.

Finally, I know there are some in our community who believe the mayor of Portland’s only duty is to enforce the laws as written, and stand silent on the rest.

I was a young officer back in the 60s, when the police were used against those protesting unjust and immoral laws. I came to understand we can’t enforce our way out of bad laws and bad public policy.

Now, as Portland’s Mayor, I cannot stay silent on an issue that affects each of us, not merely as residents, but as human beings. To remain silent about the inhuman working conditions, the destruction of individual families and the devaluing of human beings is to give our tacit approval to them. On the Justice Building in downtown Portland is the legend: “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that good people do nothing”.

I don’t think we can continue doing nothing.


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