It's hard not to be moved by the annual Fourth of July images of new Americans becoming official citizens of their newly adopted country. The media is filled with poignant stories of the often-turbulent, sometimes heroic path of those, like generations before them, who came seeking a better life.
But this year's Independence Day citizenship ceremonies came amid the harsh reality of an immigration system gone awry. After years of dancing around the subject, it is time for this country to get serious about fixing a badly broken system and enact comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
Reopening the debate on the future of immigration could get ugly, but it must be done anyway. The national conversation is an important one to the Jewish community, not only because of our own history -- we all descend from immigrants, some more recent than others -- but also because it speaks to what kind of society we want to both create and maintain.
President Barack Obama sounded an important note last week on the subject. But it's hard to know if he was serious about making this issue a priority or if he was just pandering to Hispanics in an election year.
By the same token, Republicans like Sen. John McCain, who under President George Bush's leadership came close to helping pass sweeping bipartisan reform, need to get back in the game. Of course, McCain, who is facing competition in his own re-election bid, has his own set of pressures. It's his state of Arizona, after all, where the most aggressive law has been enacted, requiring law-enforcement officials to ask any suspected illegals for their papers if they have been stopped on another charge.
The law has inspired all kinds of outrage and activism, including buttons made and worn by Jewish and other activists that challenge police to "Ask Me If I'm an Immigrant." As questionable as it is, the controversy surrounding Arizona has played an important role in re-opening a much-needed debate on the issue.
Talk tends to break down among those who believe that policing the border and other enforcement of existing laws are vital, and those who believe that enforcement alone is not the solution. But while there are no easy answers, all sides agree that comprehensive reform is a must.
Unless the federal government acts soon, more states will be likely to act on their own. Indeed, Pennsylvania already has a bill similar to Arizona pending in the legislature.
Creating a panoply of disjointed state laws is not the answer. Rather than make immigration reform an electoral football, our leaders and lawmakers need to get serious about finding a solution. Immigration to America is not going to end anytime soon. Nor should it. The question is whether future Independence Day images continue to reflect the promise of America or become another thread tearing the country apart.