There’s no question about it: in Washington and across the nation, the potential for holding a debate soon on immigration reform is increasing. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently declared that, along with health reform and energy policy, the immigration issue is a top priority for Congress this year. And although the White House has twice canceled bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders that would be the first step towards paving the way for an official discussion on comprehensive reform, I am convinced that this meeting will be held soon.
One of the recent events that helped fuel this optimism was the announcement, earlier this month, of the establishment of a national campaign to promote a comprehensive reform of the immigration system. This campaign (whose slogan is “pro-America immigration reform” and has the backing of a broad coalition of civil rights groups, churches, and business and trade associations throughout the country) is especially important, as it proposes a set of consistent and common sense principles that should guide the development of a reform bill. Moreover, the campaign has a real potential to define the debate in Washington, as many of its members are in close contact with the country’s political leadership and they also pro-actively consulted the White House and key members of Congress when developing their proposal.
This campaign acknowledges, firstly, that to fix the immigration system the solutions presented should not be based on a “band aid” approach. For example, we cannot focus exclusively on security measures enforced at the border, while ignoring the plight of millions of immigrants who are good and hardworking people that live in our country illegally, because these two issues have an impact on each other. Therefore, the solution must be a comprehensive one that addresses all intricacies of this matter. Anything else would be unacceptable.
For the promoters of this campaign, a true comprehensive reform must include a path to the legalization of 12 million illegal immigrants, but it should also enhance efforts to guarantee this country’s security. However, security resources should focus only on people involved in criminal activities that pose a threat to peace and security in our communities.
The campaign also emphasizes the need to promote the integration of immigrants, an issue often overlooked in discussions about immigration. While we recognize we are a nation of immigrants, with a wide variety of cultures and traditions, we should also help immigrants learn English and study and identify with the political principles and history that bind us together as Americans.
Lastly -and perhaps this is the issue which ensures that this is in fact a genuine solution- the campaign suggests that we acknowledge the needs of our job market so that we can bring the foreign workers we need from abroad. The document that sets out the campaign principles states the following: “One of the great failures of our current system is that the level of legal immigration is set arbitrarily by Congress —as a product of political compromise— without taking into account the real needs of the labor market”. And as the level they established is very low, immigration operations outside the legal system have cropped up to meet market demands.
Therefore, the only way to avoid creating a huge community of undocumented immigrants in the country is not by preventing their entry, but rather by facilitating the legal flow of those coming to work and that our economy needs. In short, we need to allocate more visas to allow more immigrants to enter the country. And we want to be very clear on this issue: even in the current recession, our economy needs immigrant workers to carry out jobs that Americans will not do, or for which there are simply no working-age Americans to fill them.
Immigration is not a problem, but rather a need in the United States. I believe that the tenets of this campaign are based on this vision and that is why I support it so whole-heartedly. I will also strive so that my friends and colleagues in positions of leadership, both Republicans and Democrats, shore up this campaign.
There are no acceptable excuses regarding this issue. Civil society has spoken, and survey after survey has demonstrated that the American people also favor a comprehensive reform of our immigration legislation. Now it’s up to the politicians in Washington to act. Don’t let us down!