Just over a year ago, President Obama made many promises, one of which was to fix the broken immigration system. While his administration has made significant steps in fulfilling promises such as closing Guantanamo Bay and health care reform, immigration reform has been put on the back burner. Some fear that with the health care debate dragging on, the administration and Congressional leaders may not have the political stamina to push through another highly contentious issue before the 2010 elections.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill) is one of the few politicians who believe immigration to be a pressing issue, and in October 2009 he announced that he is planning to introduce his own immigration reform legislation. In a press release, Rep. Gutierrez stated,
“[w]e simply cannot wait any longer for a bill that keeps our families together, protects our workers and allows a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it. It is time we had a workable plan making its way through Congress that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American Dream. I am preparing such a plan, and will introduce it in the near future.”
If signed into law, Rep. Gutierrez’s bill would have a profound impact on undocumented Salvadorans living in the U.S. It would, in part, provide a pathway for undocumented workers to earn to a visa or citizenship. The bill would also make it easier for family members in El Salvador to join their relatives in the U.S. as well as expand the scope of labor rights to include undocumented workers. It would also strengthen the Dream Act so that the children of undocumented immigrants can more easily access public schools in the U.S.
On November 13, 2009, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano voiced her support for immigration reform, and expressed confidence that it will happen in early 2010. Speaking at the Center for American Progress, the former govenor of Arizona said that the current economic and political climate are more suitable for reform than in 2007, when the Bush Administration tried to get reform passed. She cites reports that the flow of undocumented workers is half of what it was in 2007 due to the weakened economy, but warned that the flow is likely to resume as the economy rebounds. She believes that reform is necessary now, so that the U.S. will be able to better manage the increase of immigrants that will likely follow the rising economy. Secretary Napolitano also argues that the U.S. has achieved many of its goals in securing the border. The 700-mile wall, which she opposed as the governor of Arizona, is almost complete; the Border Patrol now has over 20,000 officers securing the border area; and more than 167,000 employers at 639,000 work sites use the E-Verify System.
In expressing her support, Secretary Napolitano said that reform had to be a “three-legged stool that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those already here.” Undocumented immigrants, she believes, ought to pay taxes, undergo criminal background checks, and learn to speak English. Napolitano also echoed one of the common arguments for reform – that immigration is part of the American identity and that the current system is broken. The status quo, she argues, only hurts American workers and weakens the U.S. economy. It also encourages migrants to embark on dangerous journeys during which they intrust their lives to smugglers along the Mexico-U.S. border. And without rights or access to the legal system, undocumented workers are often forced to work for lower wages, which in addition to not being just, adversely affects the wages of all workers. Secretary Napolitano also pointed out that the current visa requirements also harms those in the agricultural and service sectors, who are often unable to find enough workers.
Richard Hobbs, an immigration lawyer and Associate Director of SIREN (Services, Immigrant, Rights, and Education Network) echoed the sentiments of Rep. Gutierrez and expressed many of the concerns raised by Secretary Napolitano. Mr. Hobbs recently wrote, “as he holds forth the promise of remaking America, we must hold President Obama to his promise for just and humane immigration reform, with deliberation and due haste.” He goes on to argue tha the Obama Administration’s policies on job creation and health care reform are meaningless to the 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally. Similar to Rep. Gutierrez and Secretary Napolitano, Mr. Hobbs favors creating a path towards legalization for immigrants who come to the U.S., and work and contribute to our economic development, noting that two-thirds of American voters agree on this point. He also states that 57% of voters support more comprehensive approach to legalization, as opposed to the 28% that would rather rely solely on law enforcement. Mr. Hobbs also adds that legalization would add 12 million new tax-payers to the system, which would increase government revenues. On its website, SIREN states that they would welcome the reforms offered in Rep. Gutierrez’s bill.
With health care reform debate heading into what may be the final stretch, perhaps Secretary Napolitano’s optimism that immigration reform will happen in 2010 is justified. It is unlikely that politicians will be willing to take on such a controversial topic too far into the 2010 election year, and the political landscape after November 2010 is more than uncertain. The time for reform is now.
Please get inolved in supporting immigration reform now. Here are a couple links to organizations that are working on immigration reform and related issues:
Reform Immigration for America: http://reformimmigrationforamerica.org/
National Council of La Raza: http://www.nclr.org/content/topics/detail/500/