On Tuesday, June 11, the Senate voted 82-15 to proceed with debate on S.744, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill introduced by the Senate Gang of Eight. While this by no means guarantees passage of CIR in the Senate, as the real battle over Border Security (BS) and other issues whose main purpose is to split the coalition supporting reform and defeat CIR is only starting, the vote at least has symbolic significance.

It is also worthy of note, that, as recounted in a June 11 article by Morgan Whitaker in Al Sharpton's MSNBC Politics Nation website (I do not have a link, but it can be found through Google) June 11 was exactly 50 years to the day when President John F. Kennedy made an historic address in which he outlined and urged the nation to support what was to become the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Earlier that same day, Governor George Wallace had stood in the door in order to block two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from attending classes at the University of Alabama, stating that he would "refuse to willingly submit to illegal usurpation of power by the Central Government".

(The same article, June 11, 1963: From George Wallace to John Kennedy, a momentous day for civil rights, mentions, incidentally, that one of the two students, Vivian Malone, was to have a future brother in law who later became the first African-American Attorney General of the US - Eric Holder).

In his speech that evening, President Kennedy went back to 1863, saying: "One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves. yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free."

Now, 50 years after Governor George Wallace stood in the door against civil rights (also known in those days as "integration") for African-Americans, another Alabama politician, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, along with 14 of his cohorts, also tried to stand in the door against allowing debate on a bill to integrate 11 million Latino and other immigrants of color into American society. 

Only last week, House Republicans pushed through a bill aimed at preventing the Obama administration from what they claimed was a  "usurpation" of power by granting DREAMERS relief from deportation.

How much has really changed in 50 years?

True, many other Senators on both parties are willing to open the door to debate on CIR for now, but there is no shortage of Republican Senators who are only waiting to kill CIR with slingshots, booby traps and poison pills as soon as immigration reform supporters try to walk through.

And if immigration supporters manage to get CIR through the Senate intact, House Republicans are waiting with their assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.

The battle to pass CIR and achieve full rights for Latino immigrants, long one of the most discriminated-against groups in America, as well as for millions of other immigrants from around the world, is only beginning.

But it would be unrealistic to expect Comprehensive Immigration Reform to have an easy time being enacted into law. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not have an smooth time passing either. Two of its 1965 companions in the legislative movement for racial justice, the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act, are still under attack from white supremacists even today.

The current debate over CIR is only the latest episode in America's long and difficult history of fighting against racial discrimination. An excellent history of the battle to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and be found at The Congressional Center (CongressLink): Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I will explore this history in more detail in upcoming posts.