Senator Charles Schumer and New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan made a strong plea for passage of immigration reform on Friday at a location in Battery Park in New York opposite Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
It was powerful symbolism with the de facto leader of the Catholic Church in America and one of the top politicians in the nation making a concerted pitch for reform.
With hopes fading in Washington the two leaders came together to make a unique plea for movement on the comprehensive immigration reform package which easily passed the Senate but which has stalled in the House.
Schumer has been the little people’s champion on this, navigating the bill through the Senate with strong GOP support and cajoling the House to get in line. Dolan has become increasingly visible on the issue and his presence added great heft.
They were joined by members of local Hispanic, Jamaican, Asian and Irish immigration groups on a sweltering warm afternoon as media gathered at the open-air press conference.
It was hard not to gaze out to sea and imagine generations of Irish, Italian, Jews coming cresting in on those final waves after a lengthy and often fraught sea voyage to the reception point at Castle Gardens and later Ellis Island to start new lives.
Cardinal Dolan referred to his own great grandfather arriving in 1852 from ireland. "I would not be here if my great-grandfather Patrick Dolan was turned away in 1852.
"I'm a pastor and every great religion welcomes the immigrant.It is fundamental and moral.."
Looking out at the Statue of Liberty Schumer stated "That torch is flickering because immigration reform hangs in the balance."
Literally millions were processed through New York harbor and they were the making of America even though they faced even harsher calls for their expulsion than immigrants do today.
Senator Schumer stated that the Republican House had every opportunity to pass comprehensive reform, which cleared the Senate a year ago yesterday but were being held hostage by the Tea Party.
He said there was major support within the Republican caucus for passage but House Speaker John Boehner was afraid to bring it for a vote.
He stated it was strange that areas of the country with little immigration were vehemently opposed while those in immigrant rich cities saw the huge benefits (imagine New York without its immigrants!) and wanted reform
Quite why Boehner does not want this turbulent issue off his political docket remains a mystery, as no pro-immigration Republican was defeated this year in their primaries
(And no, Eric Cantor was not pro-immigration, unless you count his pre-election leaflet to hunt down “illegals” as somehow that way.)
Cardinal Dolan called for renewed efforts to help reform pass. Like Schumer, he knows the hour is late, the pro immigration forces weary and the flinty determination of so many modern “know nothings” to prevent immigration reform difficult to overcome.
He is on the record, strong and committed, "On immigration we're saying to the House of Representatives, which is dominated by the Republicans, you guys gotta get your act together. This is the best chance we've had in fair and just immigration reform," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press," last December.
Whether the work done by the two leaders pays off remains to be seen. Unlike so many others however, they have not stayed neutral at a time of moral crisis.