Three years ago my children and I headed to Washington, D.C. to partake in National Police Week, an annual remembrance of our nation’s fallen peace officers. That was the year my husband’s name was etched onto the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial wall. That was the year we gathered with other first-year survivors to honor our loved ones and share in our common grief.
Yesterday, we returned from our second trip to D.C. for Police Week, and I had the chance to reflect on what’s changed in the past three years, and what has remained the same.
As we sat in a sea of candles during the evening vigil and listened to the reciting of newly added names to the memorial wall, I knew this time around, the emotions would flow, but it would be o.k. I would be o.k. My children would be o.k.
Three years ago it was a much different story. We were just emerging from a fog of sadness and anger that had overtaken our minds and bodies in ways indescribable and unimaginable for those who have not lived such tragedy. We were still in the process of picking up the pieces of our lives and figuring out how to glue ourselves back together.
As I walked along the wall and sat among other survivors, I recognized the blankness in the eyes of those new to this reality and could literally feel the ache in their souls. Part of me needed to turn away from it, not wanting to go back to the place I had come from, while another part of me wanted to let them all know their pain would ease and life would go on and could even be better.
I said little, knowing that in this sacred place, there would be comfort. Comfort in a shared understanding of pain and the daily struggle to walk through it. But as I listened to our nation’s leaders share their words of wisdom with those whose loved ones sacrificed their lives to keep our communities safe, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of anger at the hollowness of their words. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and hurt that our President chose to skip an annual tradition of speaking to survivors at the national Peace Officers Memorial Service. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of our national leaders took the time to thank the families who now spend each and every day in the shadow of what could have been.
I thought about all the work myself and others have done over the past three years to bring attention to the problem of a broken immigration system and all the pandering and back peddling and avoiding our leaders have given us in return. When it comes to immigration reform, what have we accomplished in three years time? Almost nothing.
We’ve listened to our President promise to fix the system then declare, two years later, that he’s done all he can and the rest of us need to create a movement to make it so. We’ve listened to Senators McCain and Kyl and Congressman Flake promise reform then back away when it proved to be a potential political liability.
I’ve listened to countless individuals, from business leaders to law enforcement professionals to religious leaders to immigration attorneys to local politicians, who all present almost identical plans for a solution to fix this country’s immigration mess. And yet, no one in Washington will heed their call.
And I’ve listened to all the extremists, from politicians to radio hosts to ill-informed citizens who repeat the same myths and falsities over and over again. And still, the debate rages on and no one in power has the courage to change it.
President Obama has a golden opportunity to gather the masses behind him and push a comprehensive immigration plan through Congress. Every major poll that’s been taken over the last decade shows Americans firmly support immigration reform that tackles both border security and visa reform and offers a guest worker program that provides opportunities for low-skilled workers to enter the country legally.
We don’t need another movement in this country to make immigration reform a priority. We already have hundreds of coalitions and millions of supporters from all walks of life behind it. What we need is legislation that all of these groups can coalesce behind and speak favorably for with one united voice.
If the President were truly in favor of reform, he would not be inviting groups of celebrities to the White House but rather groups of interested parties that have already said they would back comprehensive reform. These groups include the business community, law enforcement professionals, immigration attorneys, religious leaders, and politicians from both sides of the aisle. These groups could provide the unifying message that would finally force Congress to stop sitting on its hands and instead provide a solution.
As for Arizona’s senators and representatives… well, it’s high time they stop spreading myths and start doing what they know is in the best interest of this state and country. To suggest that border security is even possible without visa reform or gun reform is to pretend they are clueless about the realities of immigration, and they are not.
I know that Senators McCain and Kyl and Congressman Flake have extensive knowledge about how to fix the system. I know without a doubt that they also understand that the things they’ve been saying and doing lately are completely opposite of what they should be doing to fix the problem. Those three men have spent more time researching and dealing with this issue than almost anyone else. They know how to fix it. They’ve just decided that reelection and party solidarity are more important than solutions. And that’s just sad.
As for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, again I say, I’m not fooled. While I commend Ms. Napolitano for her work to beef up border security, especially the efforts to dramatically increase border patrol agents, I also know that she, too, understands much more needs to be done.
Three years ago, in June 2008, I met with then Governor Napolitano to speak about immigration reform. She assured me that if and when Senator Obama became president, he would institute comprehensive immigration reform, and she would play a huge role in making it happen. Well, I’m still waiting.
And so are millions of Americans. Some of those fellow Americans, like myself, have a personal stake in this issue. Some have paid with their lives and with the lives of their loved ones. We don’t need another movement or another coalition or another election to solve this. We need leaders.
Tell me Mr. President, Madame Secretary, Senator McCain, Senator Kyl, and Congressman Flake, how many more survivors do you need to hear from? How many more families need to suffer?
In another couple of years, I intend to take my boys back to the wall that bears their father’s name and honors his sacrifice as well as the sacrifices of all our peace officers and their families. Will anything be different then? Will our leaders finally have the courage to lead?