Immigration Reform on the Horizon: Change We Can All Use
by The Opportunity Agenda, Sun Mar 22, 2009 at 08:52:32 AM EDT
Opportunity is the light that illuminates the path taken by immigrants. Yet, it, too often, is extinguished by the will of the majority who seek an opportunity of their own. This has become clear during the past six months, since the economic crisis weighed its heavy burden onto the shoulders of Americans. Nevertheless, millions of immigrants continue their sojourn toward becoming active members of our society, and laying the groundwork toward progress.
I see this everyday in my own neighborhood, as the struggle between present and future come together in search for opportunity. And looking at the message that comes this afternoon from the White House, I remain optimistic that change, though a struggle when first offset, will ultimately strengthen our country.
Obama announced today before the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) remains a clear objective for his administration, expressing his desire to change the broken system we currently face. From the early days of his transition, his administration called for real solutions. Committed to the values of community, dignity and opportunity, three key American values that his administration has echoed since the early days of his campaign, it is clear that Obama understands that the immigrant community in our country is a critical part of our larger community. Seeing this today, by his willingness for reform, it's clear that his vision is one that seeks to move us all forward together, particularly during these difficult economic times. This is an important message to grasp, knowing that change in any form often receives resistance; more the reason for us to stand firm in our resolve for real solutions, rooted in our national values that can move us all forward as one nation.
The neighborhood where I live is quite use to change, and well too familiar with the effects that competing forces have when trying to gain opportunity. Spanning the distance between the Hudson and Harlem Rivers, Dyckman Street is one of the major commercial arteries for northern Manhattan. The dividing line for Washington Heights and Inwood--what have been two historic and uniquely different neighborhoods for Jewish and Irish immigrants, respectively--the two communities now fuse seamlessly together, bonded by Spanish scribed storefront signs and the warm aroma of beef patties and grilled chicken sold on street corners. It stands as one of the few authentic immigrant neighborhoods that remain in Manhattan, the Gateway of Opportunity for tens of thousands of Dominicans beneath the shadow of the George washington bridge.
Known as the Manhattan Barrio to their families back home in the Dominican Republic, this outpost of the Caribbean often exists off-the-radar for New Yorkers. It's common to here someone from Brooklyn say, "Oh, that's where the A train goes," or, "Wow, the City goes that far north?"
Yet, this neighborhood that doesn't even have a Starbucks stays committed to not loosing its immigrant breath, holding onto its Dominican flavor the same way that it has held on to the old Irish pubs that still tuck themselves between the bodegas along Broadway. Nonetheless, it is still a community that is constantly at risk.
This past weekend, I was surprised to see the blue plywood taken down at the intersection of Broadway and Dyckman, revealing the shiny new stone and glass facade for a newly built Bank of America.
Now, keep in mind, I have no interest in passing judgement or advertising for a bank that recently launched a radio ad campaign branding itself as the "Bank of Opportunity." Rather, its the growing realization that Manhattan's last affordable neighborhood, where someone can find an apartment for under half a million dollars, continues to deal with the ongoing struggle with gentrification. Still slow in its decline of housing costs, New York City residents continue to seek out places where they can afford to live during a time when their jobs and retirement investments continue to be threatened. For the past year, the housing market dramatically slowed down in Inwood. But as the economy slowly tries to regain its footing, there are those in the Heights of Manhattan who are nervous that they might be stepped on soon by those looking for a new place to dwell.
The fear is real for the thousands of immigrants who stand the risk of being slowly displaced by the rising cost of housing that traditionally happens in revitalized neighborhoods. International barrios are often jumping points for middle class young suburbanites looking for affordable housing in urban cities, drawn to the cost of living and the international fair that breathes on the streets and sidewalks. Meanwhile, families fine themselves forced further into barrios in places like the Bronx, where transportation and other quality-of-life necessities are absent.
Northern Manhattan knows a lot about the pains of real estate and how changing communities often illustrate how transition can sometimes carry a high price in the long run, despite the low cost up front.
Where Dyckman Street hits the Hudson River, along the southern border of New York City's last remaining primitive forest, rests a small marker noting the site where Dutch settlers negotiated the purchase of Manhattan from its original residents. When the mighty expanse of the George Washington Bridge landed just south of its banks, its winding streets became an icon for the Land of Opportunity, an escape for those trying to make a better life outside the slums of lower Manhattan tenements. And now that New York faces another major turning point in its history, change seems to ring in the ears of local residents, the way that loose change rings when it falls and pirouettes down stoney stairs.
There's going to be a whole lot of change going around for a whole lot of people in the coming year. The effects of the economic downturn continue rippling through the streets of Manhattan. The simplicity lived by the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who call distant lands their home demonstrate their perseverance during difficult economic times. More the reason why such communities should shine the light not for their own opportunity, but for all of us in America. Immigrants weathered many storms in our history. And it would be foolish to ignore the contributions that millions have to make in our country. I'm not just talking about the economic benefit that can come through Comprehensive Immigration Reform--the surge of revenue that will be released when millions of Americans can finally rise over the obstacles that have held back their acceptance into our communities for many years. I'm talking more, in this sense, of the spirit that lives within immigrant communities, a spirit that has ben there during every challenging point in our history.
In the case of the barrios in Northern Manhattan, it is clear that any reform down the road, be it economic, health care or immigration, must not exclude the light of opportunity that shines from our immigrant communities. The realization of not just immigration reform, but including immigrants in all aspects of our life, is critical. We often suggest here at The Opportunity Agenda that organizations and agencies promote an Opportunity Impact Statement in their vision for progress. In cases like Inwood and washington heights, it's clear that inclusion makes change that stands much stronger in the long run, the way that the ancient elms rise up along the Hudson in Inwood Forest.
Having expounded on this, perhaps in too great of detail, I'm extremely pleased at the news that came out of Washington today. Comprehensive Immigration Reform is long overdue in our country. For a nation that has long held up its torch for immigrants from around the world, the time is now for treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. The time is now when everyone is included in "We The People." If anyone has any doubts, let them remember that the nation has said, "Yes we can."