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Celebrating Civil Rights — By John Reed

Celebrating Civil Rights
Monday was the observance of Martin Luther King Day. Signed into law in 1983 by Republican President Ronald Reagan, it was finally celebrated in all 50 states in 2000. Following soon will be February, which Republican President Gerald Ford recognized as Black History Month. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history”.
These two events are among the milestones of the Civil Rights movement. Often we think the gains made during that time only applied to African-Americans. Actually, the laws passed and policies put in place since have expanded and guaranteed rights and access for all races, women as well as men, disabled or hale, believers or not. Note there’s nothing in there about liberal/conservative, Democrat or Republican: civil rights are for all Americans.
These civil rights have at times been expanded beyond their original intent, often with good intentions, but resulting in unexpected outcomes. For example, efforts to even the playing field for college applicants of one race have wound up limiting opportunities for others. Sometimes it comes down to the definition of “fairness.” In this example, giving one person an equal chance of getting into college means making someone else’s chances unequal. Things become more fair for some, less so for others. Fairness rarely means the same as equality.
So now we come to the idea of civil rights for immigrants. Are civil rights guaranteed only for American citizens, or for anyone who is actually inside our borders? Many places, many variations on that. Returning to last week’s topic of citizenship, what rights do people gain by becoming citizens?
Places such as much of California and New York City offer practically full civil rights, including access to schools, health care, welfare and other government services. The losing candidate in Georgia’s governor’s race suggested non-citizens should even be allowed to vote. Where’s the incentive to become legal citizens if you already have all the rights you need?
Some people fought and bled for 400 years to gain their civil rights. Is it too much to ask that we not just give them away now.

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