Finally. Something that seemed impossible to some not long ago, is on the verge of becoming a reality. While it is heartening that eight U.S. senators have created a bipartisan framework for comprehensive immigration reform, and President Obama has reiterated his strong support for fixing our archaic immigration system, those facts alone are not why this is likely to become law. Rather, it is due to the critical strength and growing power of the Latino vote, as evidenced across the country in November.
The Senate framework is merely the beginning of the process, as we saw by President Obama‘s addition of his principles for reform to the conversation yesterday. However, as Congress begins to add detail to it, the framework must be strong enough to support both the hopes and dreams of immigrants, as well as our American principles of fairness and inclusion. It must also be strong enough to withstand the gridlock of Washington. Speedy presentation of a fair and reasonable bill and its passage into law is not only an electoral imperative for Washington, but a moral one as well.
While more border enforcement will be the price we pay for obtaining a path to citizenship, we should not forget that today there are twice as many border patrol agents than in 2004 and illegal immigration is now but a trickle.
The fact that policymakers are no longer debating whether or not to deport 11 million people, but rather will soon begin debating what type of line they will stand in and for how long–on their path to eventual U.S. citizenship–is a good thing. However, to require a commission of border state officials and residents to determine when the border is “secure” enough to allow citizenship to be extended is too much of a potential roadblock on the path to citizenship. Paying a penalty, paying back taxes, getting to the back of a line that won’t take a decade to move, learning English and going through background checks should be more than enough.
As the debate moves forward, we should also remember that it is not just about our country’s need for high-tech and high-skilled workers, but also about our need for hard-working, low-skilled workers. Therefore, it is significant that both the president and the bipartisan coalition of senators are also proposing to address what has been the real cause of illegal immigration: the historic lack of a reasonable and fair process that allows those workers we need in our economy to actually have “a line they can stand in” to come here. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made no such accommodation for legal entry for those workers we needed, and those who wanted to come here to work, especially from such countries as Mexico. Reliance on employer sanctions alone was not enough. That’s why it bodes well that both the president and the senators envision a process for entry of needed low-skilled workers, coupled with effective employer verification. It is also important that both the president and the senators require that the protection of the rights of these immigrant workers be an important part of any reform legislation.
Finally, we can’t forget our DREAMers. They are the ones who have kept the dream of immigration reform alive all these years. That is why it’s important that both the president and the bipartisan group of senators have proposed an expedited process to earn citizenship for young people who were brought here illegally though no fault of their own. However, those DREAMers who have already applied for and received status under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals should have an even more expedited path to achieve citizenship.
With their proposals, President Obama and the bipartisan group of senators have given hope to those who had lost it. There should be no doubt that the sleeping giant has finally awoken, and as a result 11 million people will come out of the shadows and be fully part of American society.
Martin R. Castro, President & CEO, Castro Synergies, LLC