What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’

        Yesterday, a good friend of mine in Austin pressed me about my oft-repeated phrase of “real immigration reform.” He was in agreement that there are some social and moral dilemmas with our current immigration system, but he couldn’t honestly see a better, more direct answer than the border wall. I had to thank him for his honesty, and his desire to candidly grapple with the problem and its solution. However, legislation would solve the problems at a much deeper level and in a more sustainable manner.

    One component of transformative immigration reform is prohibitive penalties for companies which employ undocumented workers. We do not need illegal immigrants – we need immigrants who are sponsored here in the United States and who come with a purpose, but we most definitely must not continue our current method of refreshing a grossly under-paid, right-less pool of workers. Stiff penalties for businesses would follow the same trend which has been adopted with corporate white-collar crime (think Enron). If the tremendous resources of the U.S. Border Patrol could be used, instead, to police the businesses which are pulling immigrants from their homeland under false pretenses, the border would be a very different place indeed. Immigrants come either from a push or pull motive – either because of the conditions of their home country or the promises of the new one – and to the extent that we can diminish the false pull of exploitative businesses, illegal immigration could be greatly curtailed. The few workers who might still come across illegally would find it very difficult to get a job, and because of their close proximity to their home country, would return like 1/3 of immigrants.

    A second key piece of meaningful immigration reform is to extend a means to legal citizenship for the 12-14 million extralegal working residents here in the United States. Earned citizenship would necessitate that person have a steady job and a place of residence. The main problem with our current immigration laws is that people migrate here and then are stuck between D.C. and the border checkpoints. Unable to secure legal citizenship, they are caught in a revolving door of underpaid, exploitative work which is both dehumanizing and compounding to their dilemma. Earned citizenship measures would greatly decrease the number of long-term extralegal residents, so that ICE could focus solely on those residents who are not moving towards such legalization. Countless immigrants who simply overstayed their visas could become much more productive members of society, no longer lurking in the shadows, if only they saw hope of citizenship.

    The third crucial element of far-reaching immigration reform would be an overhaul of the current quota system. While many immigrants and refugees come to these United States outside the current quota, this system allotting 26,000 immigrants to each nation, irregardless of its population, still forms the foundation of our current immigration legislation. These quotas, in theory, allow just as many people to immigrate from Vatican City and Luxembourg as from China, India, or Mexico. More egalitarian “quotas” would be relative to a country’s population. American universities already have a complex and accurate system of ranking students coming from schools as divergent as my alma mater Troy High School in Pennsylvania (100 graduates/year) and Philadelphia high schools (2,000 graduates/year). Another possibility, instead of quotas, would be to highlight specific industry vacancies which are prohibitively under-staffed and draw immigrants for these specific fields. This would assure an excellent pool of workers for American businesses, and it would also ensure that immigrants come to the U.S. with steady, well-paid occupations already lined up.

    While these three components are fundamental changes which must be made if we are to change the future of immigration in this country, several other ideas would help to make our nation significantly better for those populations which are so often overlooked. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass last year in Congress, would provide much-needed funds to qualifying immigrant students who have already demonstrated a readiness and dedication to academics. The DREAM Act goes much deeper than simply rewarding immigrants who work; this legislation assures that these young residents will not be stuck in the cycle of underpaid jobs which fail to utilize their contribution potential and talents. Another immigration reform which would greatly aid our current state is speedy deportation. Detention centers like our nation’s largest at Raymondville are a pock on our country in the same vein as Japanese internment camps and Guantanamo Bay. Immigrants who are employed illegally and are slotted for deportation should have the right to a speedy process. Currently, they are stripped of all rights and incarcerated for a month on average (though some are left for years). The companies which hire undocumented workers should receive much stiffer penalties than the workers who were exploited, but if we are to return them to their home country so that they can begin a new life, this must happen speedily. The alternative is what we currently have, an expensive detention process which has not been proven a true deterrent to re-entry but has most definitely been proven to be dehumanizing, unconstitutional, and an affront to basic human rights.

    While immigration should be at the forefront of American thought for the next fifty years or more, the three changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders, dismantle the need for a Secure Fence Act, and provide the most basic American rights to some 12-14 million people who are living in inequality. It is my solemn prayer that one day all residents in these United States will truly be treated equally, that people will receive better treatment and fairer taxation than corporations, and that no group of people will be denied a future because of dehumanizing legislation.

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7 Responses to “What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’”

  1. Friend from Austin Says:

    Quote: “changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders.”

    – I applaud the analysis and conclude that each point has substance and merit. Perhaps my tolerance for a wall is based more on important national security concerns that supervene the sensitivity I do have toward the feelings of others. Whatever one’s opinion about our present international conflicts, (whether or not these conflicts are consequences of bad foreign policy decisions), it’s rational to call for our borders (both north and south) to be more secure. The 3 points made are good because they address how we can have a fairer and more humane immigration system. But even if implemented, though they will urge people to enter the US legally, I believe (respectfully of course) that it is naive to think a line or place maker on the ground will keep out those who truly mean our citizens harm. We must know who is entering the country. I’d prefer no fence (international unions that further peace and economic cooperation are hostile to physical barriers). Regardless of the original intent of the Fence Act’s sponsors (xenophobia, racism, security, isolationism), it’s my prayer that the Act not be meant as a slight towards Mexico or individuals of Latin descent, but only a necessary solution arrived at by rational actors cognizant of the factors at play in international relations. I’d even be willing to grant amnesty (after a fee) to every undocumented person here, so long as something is implemented to secure the borders and regulate who comes and goes. My mind is still open and I can be persuaded the other way, but considering the feelings of proably a majority of Americans, I don’t have the burden of proof in explaining why a fence should be built. It’s rather self-evident to me.

  2. mpw160 Says:

    Good friend in Austin –

    I applaud the way you respectfully disagree; I feel this sort of civil discourse has been forgotten every bit as much as civil disobedience. Ultimately, the Bible verse is so true which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Thank you for your thoughtful critique.

    As far as the national security concerns, tying national security with a border wall appears to be a clever transference tactic. Just as the United States invaded Iraq on the pretense of national security (somehow linking them with the terrorists of 9/11), so too, advocates of a wall have begun citing “national security” as a reason for the wall. Sadly to say, though, citizens who are supporting a border wall for reasons of national security are being duped. First of all, it has not been proven that any terrorists thus far have gotten into the country by swimming across rivers or crossing deserts on foot. It has, however, been proven that they overstay visas and often come in through normal immigration means. Second, the border wall, even in its fullest realization, will not be a continuous wall nor is it intended to keep out terrorists. Its stated purpose, as per the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement, is to “impede foot traffic” across the border, to slow down those trying to cross illegally so that Border Patrol can get there in time.

    In closing, I laud your thinking critique and pray that you will continue reconsidering the merits of a border wall. Additionally, we can join in prayer that the United States may not wall itself off from neighbors who need it and who it desperately needs in a globalized world.

  3. mpl Says:

    Thank you for the comment. I have various comments/ideas I’d like to share, but I lack the time (and energy for now). I’ve juggled the tie-in with the Iraq invasion, our government’s fear tactics, and Islamic terrorism. I reason however, that even if all those things were true, considering the world we live in, they are not rational reasons to deny the fence. Again, let me say I prefer not to have a fence. But I just don’t see the problem with running a fence through parts of the dessert in order to protect the southern border. Is it the tax dollars that will be wasted? Is it the symbol that is bothersome? I seek still more substantive reasons to stand against this Act. The security issue is still a major concern to many non-duped people.

  4. mpw160 Says:

    Your honesty is much appreciated. I hope many more questioning minds will come to comment on this site. I also appreciate your candid emphasis on national security as the main reason for building such a border wall. As evidenced by 9/11 and other international attacks, terrorism is not committed by illegal outsiders but almost exclusively by individuals within that society who have access to everything citizens do. In Britain, several terroristic attacks have come from legal, Pakistani British citizens. The same will most likely prove true for the States. Yes, security is important. But, the form this security takes should not be a negative, and historically inept, symbol; tightened security in airports and public places is a must, but building a wall through the desert seems an affront to common sense and common neighbors. Millions and millions of tax dollars will go to such a project which is doomed to fail from the start. In such a technological age, should we really be building a medieval-era wall?

    The best security plan for these United States would be a combination of earned amnesty, quota-less immigration, and tightened internal security of public spaces. This is a progressive plan which builds on our technological advances and also advances our position as a world power willing to work with globalization, rather than strive against it.

    I hope to hear back from you, Austinian friend.

  5. steev Says:

    These are interesting points, but the only real legislative change that will really make a profound difference is to completely overhaul foreign economic policy. The cause, not the symptoms, of immigration must be addressed. The reason people are so desparate to come to the U.S., legally or illegally, even if they might die crossing a desert or might get thrown in a detention center and beaten and starved, is because they and their families are already starving and dying because the economic policies of the U.S. has destroyed their livelihoods. Until NAFTA and other neoliberal trade policies are revoked and replaced with a truly humane way of treating people, all people, equally, the world over, the downtrodden poor will continue to come to the rich countries so that they can provide for themselves and their loved ones. Incidentally, treating other peoples justly and fairly will also take away the need to guard our borders against terrorists, because there won’t be crazed bomb builders that hate us. Stop terrorizing the world, and there won’t be any more terrorists.

    This might seem like a tall order, but it might actually be easier than a continuing attempt at turning the rich countries into ever more formidable fortresses. There just is no way to definitely stop someone from doing something when they have nothing to lose, other than killing them, and when there are billions of them, well, you get the idea….

  6. An American Says:

    what a crock, reward felons who steal from americans

    • Matthew Webster Says:

      Dear American,

      I thank you for taking the time to engage in this supremely necessary dialogue. I, too, share your indignation about the felons who steal from Americans, and I think the United States has a duty, indeed a moral obligation, to prosecute those “felons” of whom you write – Agriprocessors and other employers who wrongfully steal from the mouths of Americalmosts whom they lured to the United States with the promise of citizenship and better pay. We both agree with Dr. King when he wrote, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Why We Can’t Wait 77). Thanks!

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