Friday, April 19, 2013

Still missing the target on immigration reform

Published on April 16 in Lafayette Journal & Courier

The current U.S. immigration system is broken. That’s an understatement.
The challenge is how we go about fixing a system in a country that welcomes immigrants and yet maintains the rule of law.

The continued effort to fix it based on the stereotype of keeping Mexican nationals from crossing the southern border is foolish, shortsighted and doomed to fail. The encouraging part of the current try is that there is still a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to reform immigration.

The rhetoric coming out of the “Gang of Eight” is not encouraging.

Here is a quote from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., from “Fox News Sunday” about negotiations with the bipartisan group of senators trying to hash out immigration reform and how it will impact current undocumented immigrants.

“They don't qualify for any federal benefits — no food stamps, no welfare, no Obamacare," Rubio said, as reported by the Huffington Post. “They will have to stay in that status until at least 10 years elapses ... and then all they get is a chance to apply for a green card.”

Now that makes you feel warm, fuzzy and welcoming, doesn’t it? Of course, Rubio has ulterior motives for 2016, but let’s try to ignore that right now. The talking point doesn’t acknowledge a basic truth about many undocumented workers in the country today.
The truth is that there is a business magnet that attracts and encourages them to come here. To craft legislation that ignores that reality is punitive and may keep many undocumented immigrants in the shadows.

The Greater Lafayette Diversity Roundtable held its biennual Diversity Summit at Ivy Tech Community College on Thursday. Briseida Sandoval, who graduated with honors from Frankfort High School in 2010, gave one of the most compelling reasons for immigration reform when she talked about current Latino students getting lost in the system.

“People tell them you’re not going to graduate, you’re not going to be able to follow your dreams,” Sandoval told the audience of about 80 people. “It brings that individual down. It brings his self-esteem down knowing he can’t get a higher education and pursue his dream. So they drop out of high school. They don’t wait for other opportunities to come their way.”

Multiply the numbers Sandoval has seen in Frankfort to places with bigger populations of undocumented immigrants, such as California, Texas and North Carolina, and one can easily see current and future challenges for undocumented immigrants and the country. Meaningful immigration reform has an opportunity to make the young people Sandoval talks about a bigger part of the economy and the fabric of America.

President Barack Obama’s deferred action policy in June 2012 allowed many children of undocumented immigrants brought into this country at a young age to be eligible for work authorization. While not the Dream Act, which would have given them a pathway to citizenship, the action has already had an impact on giving these Latinos hope.

“These young kids, some of them may be adults already and brought here through no fault of their own, now are able to apply for Social Security cards, identification and so on,” said Veronica Jalomo, of the Latino Center for Wellness and Education, who also was part of the Diversity Summit panel. “This is a good thing for the students and will allow them to pursue a higher education. This will open doors for them.”

Also, we can’t escape the racial aspect at play in immigration reform. The reason why we’re even talking about immigration reform in the first place is because of this “concern” over Mexican and Central American nationals crossing the border. Even the proposed walls and fences along the border have a sort of confinement aspect to it.

In 2010, U.S. Border Patrol reported nearly 4,000 border crossings from Canada to the United States. I wonder how that fence between U.S. and Canada is coming?

National security? Remember that five of the Sept. 11 hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, were in the country on expired visas, and none of them entered the country via illegal border crossing. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office last year, as many as 45 percent of people who are here illegally are those with expired visas. You wouldn’t think that with the amount of financial resources and attention politicians continue to put on the southern border patrol and fences.

Yes, the country’s borders need to be secure. It’s important to know who is legally in this country. Punishing those who are already here with draconian actions meant more to score political points will ultimately backfire. Let’s hope the upcoming immigration reform proposal offers better.

Hughes is a member of the Greater Lafayette Commerce's Diversity Roundtable.

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