America's Need for Immigration Reform Is on Display at a Graduation Ceremony Near You

Yesterday when my wife, son and I were driving back from Lubbock, the news on my tablet told me that Phyllis Schlafly, president of the Eagle Forum, Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, and Tea Party leaders in 25 states had released an open letter urging congress to dump its immigration reform effort. The story couldn't have been more ironic, given what we had just witnessed at Texas Tech University.

The main force driving an ultimate Republican/Democratic compromise in the Senate Judiciary Committee was America's need for highly skilled immigrants. A few years ago, when I did a long piece on immigration reform, people told me America was getting toasted in the international competition for skilled immigrants.

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For years now business leadership in America has been at the very leading edge of that argument, urging that we can't stay competitive in the new global economy unless we can recruit top foreign talent. We can't recruit those talented individuals unless we can change our laws to guarantee them a stable predictable immigration status when they get here, which we cannot do now.

We were honored and privileged to attend the graduation ceremony for the Texas Tech Medical School on Monday, which was, for the most part, an appropriately solemn affair. Watching a med school graduation in this country is like watching a bunch of people return safe and sound from some combination of war, natural disaster and Harry Potter. You can't believe they're all still alive, let alone smiling.

But one part of the ceremony was not somber at all; in fact made me so happy I laughed out loud. Salted through the crowd of mainly American-born brand-new doctors were lots of graduates who were either foreign-born or first-generation. Family members of graduates who themselves held the title of doctor, either as physicians, lawyers or Ph.D.s, were able to come onstage in their academic regalia and assist in the ceremony.

You could barely see some Indian and Asian graduates because they had so many doctors up there on stage with them helping them on with the hoods that signified they were now doctors, too. In many of those cases, an even bigger contingent of family and friends in the peanut gallery exploded in the kind of jubilant cheers and applause you'd expect to hear at the Olympics.

It made me proud of my country, because at some point I realized this was the Olympics of life, the Olympics of success in the world, success in America. What says more about the value and grandeur of our country than these brilliant people from the far corners of the planet cheering their hearts out because now we're going to allow them to serve us as physicians?

What tells us more about Phyllis Schlafly, the Eagle Forum or the Tea Party than their desperate attempt to derail comprehensive immigration reform just as it finally gets some real purchase in congress? These people are not conservatives. Calling them that degrades the word itself. Nor are they patriots. I don't think they even know what's great about this country.

These are a bunch of worn-out, used-to-be has-beens, the people who used to have it all in this country mainly because somebody handed it to them, terrified of competition. That fear of competition runs deeper than anything else in them, deeper even than simple racism or xenophobia. They know in their guts they can't hold on in a fair fight.

But if the fight for top ranks in this country is not fair and open, this country will sink to the bottom of the global ladder. That's one big reason responsible business leaders have joined hands with top labor and religious leaders to fight for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Eagle Forum and the Tea Party offer us nothing on this issue but shame and fear. The raucous joyous outbursts I heard at the Lubbock Civic Center Monday offered the real gold medal. Those cheers said, "Nothing makes us prouder than making it in America." I'll take that ribbon any day.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze