In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved a law that changed the quota system for immigration, signing the Immigration and Nationality Act on New York’s Liberty Island. During the first day of the LBJ Presidential Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin, Julián Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor, discussed immigration reform in the 21st century, touching on the history and current state of immigration in the U.S. and examining opportunities for future updates.
Overall, the two leaders shared the belief that there is a need for realistic modifications in immigration policy, calling on government leaders to set aside politics for change.
“Pure and simple, it is in the best interest of America, economically and for other reasons, that we have immigration reform and that we take the 11 million people that are here and give them the opportunity to be here legally so that they, as the term is, ‘get out of the shadows,’” Barbour said.
The two discussed financial issues of immigration reform, acknowledged border issues and a current challenge of defining “border security,” and tackled the topic of people who overstay their visas.
“I can usually tell the people that are serious about the policy and the folks who are just using it as a political wedge issue because the people who are serious about the policy and actually care about the issue always speak to the issue of overstay or give a full picture of the problem,” Castro said.
Prompted by moderator Brian Sweany, senior executive editor at Texas Monthly, Barbour and Castro also touched on the GOP’s tone surrounding immigration laws, namely Jeb Bush’s recent comments that some illegal immigration is the result of an “act of love.” Barbour said that more candidates should express how they actually feel about the subject of immigration—not just how they think voters want them to respond. Castro noted that candidates will likely feel more comfortable expressing honest opinions following the primaries and predicted that more 2016 Republican candidates than not will hold views closer to Bush’s position. Additionally, the DREAM Act came into the conversation when a woman in the audience, identified by the AP as a “DREAMer,” shouted to Castro to urge Obama to stop deportations of families.
As the panel came to a close, Castro used the opportunity to remind the audience that throughout history, groups of immigrants that were once seen as bothersome were finally welcomed, and America was strengthened for it. “We need them as much as they need us,” he said.
The three-day summit, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continues today. Visit www.civilrightssummit.org for more information.