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“Freedom is indivisible,” said John F. Kennedy, “and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” The politics of freedom has bedeviled statesmen and leaders from Nehru to Lincoln and Gandhi to MLK.

Freedom, then, was to do with the enslavement of African Americans in America; of the attempted extinction of Jews in Europe; of the fragmentation of Indians in India; and of the secessionist struggles in many parts of the world. These days, freedom is about rights, protections and entitlements of citizens and legal immigrants.

What about the rights and liberties of those “dreamers” who entered the country illegally? Should they have constitutional privileges? Should they be granted the freedoms that other residents enjoy despite their illegal status?

Many Republican speeches center on the theme of encroachment when it comes to immigration. “Immigration. Enough is Enough.” is the title of The American Freedom Party article on the subject. Freedom, it seems, is the heritage of those who came earlier, those ahead and beyond the assimilation line.

Hidden within the immigration rhetoric, is the grammar of freedom. It has always been about value, price and advantage. Even when it was about the immorality of slavery, it was also about the economic advantage of free labor.

When talking about immigration reform, it is important to consider rights that are due all individuals on the basis of humanity, despite their legal status or which country they come from.

I believe that the immigrant spirit is one in chaos—putting on hold the familiar, redefining identity, employing a new language and absorbing a varied culture—and the undocumented immigrant spirit is one in crisis.

While the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants (240,000 Indians in that number, as per 2011 Department of Homeland Security figures) do not take part in the electoral process, they must, on humanitarian grounds, be allowed freedom of access to health care and education. These are fundamental freedoms that promote physical, moral and intellectual progress.

Freedom should not be a commodity that is easily subtracted from the equation when the economics don’t add up.

Jaya Padmanabhan

Jaya Padmanabhan is editor emeritus, contributing writer, and board member of India Currents. She is a veteran journalist, essayist, and fiction writer with over 250 published articles and short stories....