America has a strong record of opening her arms to people in search of liberty and democracy, a place where all are free from religious persecution.
Liberty's lamp, which lit the way for generation upon generation, continues to illuminate our moral compass. But modern times are weighing on America's openness as millions of people from other lands sneak through our back door.
These uninvited guests, if you will, want to be green-lighted with a path to citizenship. They oppose stricter controls, which would stop them at the border, and they push back against tougher enforcement, which would send them home.
Meanwhile, the true immigrants apply for visas and green cards and play by other rules that, in due time, allow them a place in line to become "Americans."
The situation is pitting Christian against Christian as Americans turn up the heat on Congress and the White House to find common moral and legal ground on overhauling federal immigration law.
Americans want change, and they told Barack Obama as much when they sent him to the White House. He, in turn, promised change. But the more things change in Washington, the more they stay the same.
At their own political peril, the people who run Washington are pledging allegiance to a government of, by and for politicians.
The states - not the federal government - used to control immigration, and that's why Arizona's tough new law is a game-changer.
Consider its implications even though the law has yet to take effect.
USA Today reported Wednesday that schools in Arizona's Hispanic areas are seeing unusual declines in enrollment, and businesses catering to Hispanics are finding their clientele holding on to their cash in anticipation of July 29, the day the law will take effect.
One official with the Balsz Elementary School District, which has headquarters in Phoenix and is 75 percent Hispanic, said 70 students have been pulled out recently compared with seven students this time last year.
"They're leaving for another state where they feel more welcome," District Superintendent Jeffrey Smith told the newspaper.
An illegal immigrant who has worked in plant nurseries for 20 years said in the story that he is pulling up stakes.
"If I were alone, I'd try to stay," said Juan Carlos Cruz. "But I have a family, and I have to find a place where we can live with more freedom."
Ah, freedom. Good old American freedom. There's nothing like it.
Even though Arizona's law does not target Hispanics and explicitly forbids racial profiling, Mr. Cruz and his family are in an unfortunate predicament and could find it extremely difficult to find a new, welcoming home.
Dozens of state legislatures are considering following Arizona's lead on illegal immigration with resolutions, ballot proposals and legislation. Scores of measures have been enacted.
The movement reflects the mood of American voters, and a recent Quinnipiac University poll bears this out. Respondents approved of the Arizona law by 51 percent to 31 percent; 45 percent predicted it would reduce illegal immigration, compared with 36 percent who said it wouldn't.
Sixty-six percent of those polled said they wanted immigration reform that focuses on enforcement rather than on integrating illegal immigrants already here.
In the poll, 59 percent called illegal immigration a "very serious" problem for the country, virtually the same as the 57 percent who identified it that way in a survey in March 2006.
The White House and Congress must decide whether they will side with American voters or with illegal immigrants.
"The Arizona immigration law has emerged as a major divide in the country, but the numbers are on the side of those supporting it," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "The strong plurality who say they would like a similar law in their own state probably portends [that] the law will be an issue in many, many campaigns this November across the country. Depending on how those elections and court challenges come out, copycat Arizona laws could be a hot issue in state capitals after November."
The new twists on America's open-arms policy could very well mean that Washington politicians become pussycats who purr their way into the midterms without tackling immigration reform.
For sure, voters are warning incumbents and newcomers alike against taking their support for granted.
Illegal immigrants are listening. Let's pray Washington is, too.
- Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.
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