Immigration reform is now being seriously discussed in Washington DC, and prospects for something being done are good. The bad news is that Congress will likely pass something that falls short of a successful immigration reform package.
President Obama laid out his proposal for immigration reform. It was similar to a plan laid out by a bi-partisan group of Senators. House Republicans are said to be working with some Democrats on their own plan.
The major difference is the timing. The president wants reform sooner rather than later and the Senators want reform only after a pre-condition of border security is met. That provision could blow the whole thing apart because a “secure border” is in the mind of the beholder. Opponents of immigration from Mexico will never be satisfied that the border is secure enough.
Immigration reform should help victims not corporations
If we remove ourselves from the politics of immigration and instead ask ourselves what is the right thing to do, we will find that many essential provisions in true reform are missing falling victim to politics and corporate greed.
Let’s assume that consensus is reached on the 11 million undocumented immigrants living here now. Let’s pray that consensus gives them dignity, legal status, protection from exploitation, and an opportunity to gain citizenship. But what’s next? How do we avoid having this problem all over again down the road? Maybe the symbol of our freedom, the Statue of Liberty can help. The inscription on that statue sets forth our nation’s position on immigration:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
So what reform will honor this sacred value while balancing the protection of our sovereignty with protection of the rights and livelihood of those already here, and the human rights and needs of those huddled masses yearning to be free?
We are all immigrants, descendants of immigrants
Remember, unless we are Native American, we are all descendants of immigrants who came here freely or in bondage. Many white Americans are descendants of illegal immigrants who came across a border decades ago.
Ronald Reagan not only gave amnesty to 3,000,000 immigrants, but he advocated an open border where workers could come, work, and return home.
Reagan’s plan couldn't pass the House of Representatives today. He understood our economy needs workers to harvest crops and do other jobs that Americans seem loath to do. Reagan believed the best way to keep immigrants from staying here is to make it easy for them to go home and return again.
Shortfalls of current immigration laws
All the increased border security actually is making the situation of undocumented immigrants worse. Many who are here now came to feed their families. If they could go back home knowing they could return again, many would. Excessive border security is counter productive, and Reagan knew it. Forty percent of those here illegally now came in airplanes, many with visas.
Another shortfall in current plans is that guest worker programs are designed to insure corporate profits not the welfare of the tired and poor. They provide cheap labor for huge corporations, but do little for the workers who are often not paid minimum wage or overtime. They do not receive health benefits, vacation days, or retirement. Often they are forced to live in squalid conditions.
Our economy needs skilled immigrants. However we can not accept an immigration policy that treats immigrants whose families were wealthy enough to send them to college, here or at home, differently than it treats hard working poor immigrants who come here to provide a future for their children.
We need to address the fact our immigration laws are destructive to the family values we as cherish as a nation, and ironically, the values those who oppose immigration espouse. Say for example, if we allow a skilled student to remain here, what about his family back home. He or she may be fortunate to have an education, but his parents, siblings, or spouse may not be educated. Many undocumented immigrants here now are family members of documented immigrants.
These are elements that must be addressed in meaningful reform otherwise we will be having this discussion again down the road. If we want real reform, Congress needs to follow the guidance contained on our own statue of liberty.