A museum dedicated to immigrants that helped shape the nation received some congressional support Monday, but the museum's main advocate is pushing the White House to take action in the face of congressional gridlock.
Sam Eskenazi, director of The Coalition for the National Museum of the American People, said he was encouraged by a recent Senate resolution to establish a commission to study the museum's creation, but hoped President Barack Obama would establish a presidential commission. “It’s so difficult to get anything through Congress now,” Eskenazi told CQ Roll Call Monday. He later added, "This is the most expeditious way to move forward.”
Since 2007, Eskenazi has been working to establish the museum, which, in his view, would be a testament to the American people. The museum would tell the story of each group coming to the United States, ranging from the prehistoric period to present day.
"We think it would be a great cultural legacy for the nation," Eskenazi said.
And Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, agreed, announcing in a news release Monday that he introduced legislation to establish a commission to explore the creation of such a museum.
“The story of America is a story about immigration," Schatz said in a statement. "For generations, people from around the world and from all walks of life have come to the United States to build better lives for themselves and for their families."
But immigration has become a polarizing word on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail. Still, Eskenazi said any commission studying the museum would be bipartisan, and pointed to bipartisan support for a similar resolution introduced by former Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., in the 112th and 113th Congresses.
The coalition estimates that a commission cost less than $1 million and could be financed by a "consortium of foundations or other entities," according to its website. The museum could cost around $500 million, which museum advocates hope could be financed from gifts from foreign governments, foundations, corporations and the public.
But first a commission must issue a report on establishing the museum, which the coalition noted could be completed in roughly nine months. In the meantime, Eskenazi said the coalition will continue to push the president to take action.
In an Oct. 1 letter to Obama, sent in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, nearly 200 leaders of ethnic organizations and scholars urged the president to establish the commission.
"The National Museum of the American People will become a lasting cultural legacy," the coalition wrote. "All Americans will come to learn the story of their own ethnic, national or minority groups, and to learn about all of the others. Foreign visitors will come to better understand our incredibly diverse nation."
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