The Time for Immigration Reform is Now

By Troy Jackson 05-16-2011

Back when President Obama was candidate Obama, one of his favorite mantras on the stump was the need to recapture what Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the fierce urgency of now." The urgent need for substantive change led Obama to enter the presidential race, and his excellent campaign led him to the White House.

Over the past few years, rarely has Obama governed with the fierce urgency of now that he talked about so ambitiously on the campaign trail. There are reasons for this, to be sure. Governing is more problematic, difficult, and challenging once one is president. Lofty rhetoric does not change laws.

Last Tuesday, Obama gave another speech about the need for immigration reform in this country. The speech was fine, as far as it went. I had a few quibbles, such as when Obama alledged that undocumented immigrants that "they've cut in front of the line." The reality is that for the vast majority of people living in other parts of the world, there simply is no line. The line doesn't exist.

Overall, Obama delivered a lofty and measured speech. At one point, Obama called immigration reform "an economic imperative." But Obama did not decide to use the words "The fierce urgency of now" when talking immigration reform.

The problem is that for Dreamers, for Agricultural workers, for families who have been ripped apart, nothing is more urgent. Every day a young talented high school student has to wonder if she will ever go to college because of her status is a day too many. Every day a young boy has to grow up without a father in the house because he has fallen victim to ICE is a day too long. Every day that employers steal wages and tolerate sexual harassment or worse with their undocumented employees is a day too long.

For immigrants in the United States, the time for speeches is over. It is time for leadership and governing with the fierce urgency of now.

Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century) and a participant in Sojourners' Windchangers grassroots organizing project in Ohio.

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