Be Strong and Of Good Courage
The signs of crisis are all around us. Headlines scream of new proposals to protect America by keeping out the rest of the world. Those who look or sound "foreign" fear for their jobs, their homes and themselves. Thoughts of an a broad-based new amnesty that were front page news when President Fox visited the White House for a full state dinner only a few days before terror struck have vanished from the political radar screen. A Zogby poll trumpeted by the restrictionists reveals every ethnic group and social class wants action to be taken to limit the flow of immigrants to this country. Senator Diane Feinstein, a liberal Democrat from California, recently introduced a bill to ban all F-1 students for a six month period. Demand for visas is reported down across the globe, save for the most impoverished countries, as America is no longer seen as a haven from trouble. Moslem students leave our campuses to be with family members as war approaches and hostility toward them grows. The Administration lobbies for tough laws that equate fighting terror with a dangerous weakening of our most basic constitutional safeguards in order to detain immigrants on unspecified charges over indefinite periods without effective judicial review - all in the name of national security.
This seems like a rather bad time to argue for a campaign to enact a more enlightened immigration policy that would enlarge the visa quotas, eliminate labor certification, end employer sanctions, rationalize our system of labor market controls, scrap the oppressive regime of H-1B compliance, and make immigration a cornerstone of our international competitive position in the global economy. Don't even think about it, we are told; don't try to get anything now, just batten down the hatches, ride out the storm, and wait till things calm down. Focus on blunting enforcement and try to make advocacy of immigration an act of patriotism, not a symbol of alliance with Osama bin Laden.
In blunt terms, this is a formula for disaster for ourselves, our clients and the nation. Now is not the time to be defensive, but outspoken. Immigration was essential for the American economy before September 11th and remains so today. Our immigration policies were a drag on job creation and economic growth before September 11th and remain so today. The INS and USDOL thought of immigration solely as a political problem rather than an economic asset before September 11th, and their views are still the same. Business and labor wanted to get rid of an employer sanctions system that frustrated employers and terrified aliens and they still do. American universities benefited from the talent and creativity of foreign students and scholars before September 11th and neither the scope nor the value of such intellectual cross-fertilization has decreased to even the smallest extent. Immigration was and is the only effective answer to the graying of America. It was and is the only effective strategy to revive decaying urban neighborhoods and restore our largest cities to life. These fundamental realities have not changed and, now more than ever, the nation needs to be reminded of them. We cannot draw closer to the world in order to fight terror while pursuing an immigation policy based on a Fortress America model.
We have gotten things all wrong about immigration in this country. Employment-based immigration should be based on what the economy needs not what specific employers want. We should use immigration as a tool to create new jobs and new sources of prosperity, not merely to protect what is already here. Above all, those who want more and better immigration should embrace an approach towards immigration that makes it far tougher to get here but much easier to stay. Law enforcement should be our ally, not our concern. Security checks should be vastly expanded to screen out those who come to do us harm. At the same time, we should de-emphasize the importance of temporary work visas, such as the H-1B, and upgrade the importance of permanent resident status so that we put in place practical steps that make its attainment quick and relatively simple. If we want people from elsewhere to feel that they are part of America, let's act like it AFTER they arrive, rather than making them feel as if we resent their very presence and will frustrate through our immigration policy any good faith attempt to stay. If we worry that suspected terrorists are hiding among the undocumented then we should bring the undocumented into civil society, bring them in out of the shadows. Find out who they are; let their kids go to school; give them access to quality medical care; allow them to work and, above all, endow their lives here with a dignity and a respect that they have never had and which they deserve to enjoy. [Editor's note: text amended 10/19/01]. Does keeping the undocumented in the shadows make us more secure? Abolition of employer sanctions and a permanent extension of 245(i) would do more to strengthen national security than anything the restrictionists are demanding. Both supporters and opponents of immigration view tighter enforcement as antithetical to more and more rational imigration flows. In fact, they are both wrong. We need more enforcement and more immigration. Enforcement should not be designed, as it has been in the past, to deter immigration but to facilitate it along more rational lines.
Today and tomorrow are times of torment for America, but they are more than that. They are times of great challenge and true opportunity to do the right thing. At an earlier time, when American racism was at its most virulent, the great African-American songwriter James Weldon Johnson told his people to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a song that became the unofficial anthem of an entire race. This remains excellent advice for our time. Speak up and out. Be strong, be strong and of good courage. America needs no less.
About The Author
Gary Endelman practices immigration law at BP Amoco Corporation. The opinions expressed in this column are purely personal and do not represent the views or beliefs of BP Amoco Corporation in any way.