Brother, can you spare some change?

“Change” is certainly the password among the candidates. But what does it really mean? Is it “the few loose coins in my pocket,” like someone told me? Or is it more than that?

That came to mind with the arrival of my alumni magazine, Oregon Quarterly. On Page 2, editor Guy Maynard quoted a New York magazine redesigner as saying, “People think they want change — but what they really want is what they know — but better.”

So what is this “better” that we really want?

Especially when discussing immigration, the same ol’ crowd seems to have a repeat-without-retreat formula working for it. The refrains keep pounding non-solutions into our heads. Haven’t we already heard it all?

Well, no.

The Brits have come up with something instructive. But to get it, first we have to accept that we live in a world with a lot of people who ain’t us.

Former British Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith released a “green paper” report requested by the prime minister last year to review citizenship. A green paper is a document intended to stimulate debate and launch a process of consultation between the British and their European partners. He contended a simplification of the current system is needed.

Of the four major recommendations, the one that most applies to us concerns reforming the immigration status known as “permanent resident.” About half a million of all immigrants to Britain are unauthorized — or, as we like to say, “illegal.”

The report recommends that people who expect to settle in the United Kingdom “for the long-term” become citizens. It proposes that those who cannot do so because their country of origin does not allow dual nationality be recognized as “associate citizens.” He states: “We should expect people who are settled in the UK for the long term either become citizens or, if they are unable to do so, then associate citizens.”

The point is that the UK is promoting national integration. It recognizes that it’s not good to leave a lot of people hanging in limbo.

Our interest, turning our attention to the drafting of platforms for party nominees for the upcoming elections, should be national integration, too. Do platform drafters dare to propose an “associate citizenship” for our North American partners? If not, are we just stalling but calling it change?

When I was at the University of Oregon, professor Arthur Pearl was so popular his classes were held in the basketball court and his students sat in the bleachers. The teacher-writer-reformer promoted a brand of social change based on education. Everyone should be taught and everyone was capable of learning. That’s how society transforms and progresses, he preached.

Over time, I realized that Pearl also promoted taking an instructive punch, with optimism, at the merchants of negativity. He called them “the dream killers.” The challenge was to have the right outlook and a good method to take to the marketplace of ideas.

So far, no matter how Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain brand their platforms, each one has still to prove to those of us who are optimistic about our country and the future that a rehash of transnational migration issues isn’t any more than a revisit of well-traveled negative paths. It is not change. It’s only the jingle in their pockets.

What the Brits are proposing is different. They should know. Immigration accounted for more than half of Britain’s population growth between 1991 to 2001, and might go up to 83 percent of future growth.

The stiff-upper-lip British seem a lot more optimistic than we are in these matters. They’re walking the walk while we’re still talking the talk.

(Jose de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power” (Archer Books, 2003) writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)