Is it a half loaf? Is it a permanent underclass? Or is there a way forward buried under all the rhetoric?
Last year the Senate accomplished what most thought an insurmountable task – drafting and passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that tackles restructuring our dysfunctional system. The bill was not perfect, but it was a heroic effort of bipartisan leadership and motivated by a strong desire to see our nation move forward. The Senate bill traveled to the House with great hopes, but as the year came to an end it failed to garner support, much like the indie movie producers put on the back-burner.
Immigration advocates however, did not wither. Marches, blogs, calls, videos and other advocacy efforts persisted for leaders in the House to pick up where the Senate left off and finish the job. Meanwhile, families continued to be separated, mothers and fathers were deported, businesses were unable to hire the talent they need, and our economy remained stagnant at best.
However, the New Year saw House leadership making a commitment to take up the issue of immigration again. Speaker Boehner hired Rebecca Tallent, a former and longtime adviser to Sen. John McCain on immigration issues who was involved in Congress’ last major attempt to reform immigration law in 2007. And the Speaker has promised release of a set of “standards” to underpin House efforts at reform.
Those standards for immigration reform are speculated to call for beefed-up border security and interior enforcement, a worker verification system for employers and earned legal status for the nation’s undocumented immigrants. It also is rumored to call for reforms to visa programs and a system to track those in the country legally. The talk surrounding the standards seems to back away from an “earned path to citizenship” for those who are legalized.
A recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy, estimates that between 4.4 million and 6.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under the expected House proposals. The key issue is the manner in which the 11 million undocumented immigrants would be eligible for Legal Permanent Status – a crucial first step towards citizenship. Under prospective House proposals set forth by Robert W. Goodlatte (R-VA), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, undocumented immigrants could qualify for provisional legal status, if they can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer.
What this means is that, without fixing the inadequate existing system, attempts at reform are likely to fall flat. Harsh bars to obtaining lawful permanent residence must be eliminated or at least ameliorated. The current anemic quota system must be made more robust and relate to the real needs of our economy, rather than to the paranoia of those who seek to block the ability of immigrants to migrate legally.
And so depending on perspective and on the full picture, the proposals may put a “Band-Aid” on a current problem or create a new one – a half loaf and a permanent subclass. This perplexing view would keep us within the confines of our current system. The challenge is to step outside the box and realize the enormous opportunity the complete revamping of our broken immigration system can garner.
The gigantic step forward is to harvest the talent we already have within our boundaries and weave those people and their families fully into the fabric of our society in a way that will not only improve our economy but invest in the future of our nation. The efficient and logical, yet arduous, roadmap for integration of talented, dedicated, and invested aspiring Americans already in the United States is the key to being a leading nation. A fully repaired immigration system is critical to the future of our leadership and competitiveness. Let us help our leaders see this perspective.