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In our opinion: Labor Day revisited

Published: Monday, Sept. 1 2014 8:48 p.m. MDT

Day laborers wait for work in Chandler, Ariz in 2010.

Matt York, AP

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According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.”

These are lofty words, but they don’t fully encapsulate the enormity of what American workers have accomplished over time. They also don’t specify that the vast majority of these workers were immigrants who arrived in this country with little or nothing to their name. First-generation Americans came from all over the world to try to build a better life for themselves and their families. They received low wages and often faced discrimination and hardship, but they recognized that their sacrifices would benefit their children and grandchildren. In that sense, immigration was a selfless act, inspired by hope for greater opportunities for generations yet to come.

Times may have changed, but that spirit of hope that brings people to America remains as bright as ever. Unfortunately, our current immigration system is not nearly as accommodating to those dreams as it was in the past. Legal immigration is an arduous process that often takes a great deal of time and money. This creates perverse incentives for people to enter the country illegally, which results in a host of problems that the current system is inadequately equipped to solve.

Unfortunately, too many in Washington, D.C., are more interested in scoring cheap political points with regards to immigration policy than they are in finding workable solutions. This has prompted President Obama to consider taking drastic unilateral action to fix the problems that Congress refuses to address. While we applaud the president’s willingness to engage on this issue, we also recognize that he is constitutionally unable to override legislative authority.

Should the president choose to take action that violates that principle, that would spark congressional action that would likely complicate the issue even further. The wiser approach would be for Congress to hammer out a compromise that the president can sign. It certainly won’t please everyone, but that’s the nature of the legislative process. The perfect need not be the enemy of the good in this instance.

On this Labor Day, we do well to remember the successes of the workers who have gone before. At the same time, we need to fix what isn’t working in order to accommodate a new generation of immigrants who want nothing more than to contribute to our nation and pursue the American dream. That’s how we can strengthen the country that we celebrate on this Labor Day.

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