Comprehensive Immigration Reform: It's Time To Walk The Walk
by Frank Sharry
On Wednesday, November 12th Bush Administration Cabinet secretaries met with Mexican counterparts in Washington, D.C. to discuss issues of mutual concern, and tops on the list was the issue of comprehensive migration reform. No breakthrough was expected, and that is a shame. It is high time for the key actors—the Bush Administration, the Fox Administration, and the U.S. Congress—to move beyond vague assurances that migration is “still on the table,” and take concrete steps to solve our pressing migration and border issues.
The Steps to be Taken Now
The following are all concrete, achievable steps that could and should be taken in the coming weeks and year by the Bush Administration, the Fox Administration, and the U.S. Congress. Each step would represent substantive progress in its own right. Together, they would put the U.S. on the path to regulating immigration effectively and securing our borders intelligently.
The Status Quo is Broken
The measures put into place over the past 15 years—with the vocal support from the anti-immigrant chorus in the U.S.—have clearly failed. Employer sanctions, increased border patrols, streamlined deportations, workplace raids, and reduced access to basic public services were all supposed to curtail unauthorized migration from Mexico and Central America. Instead, the biggest crackdown on unauthorized migration in recent history coincided with the biggest increase in history of the size of the undocumented immigrant population. Proposals to do more of the same, or to round up and deport millions of undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. are unworkable and un-American.
It has become painfully clear that antiquated U.S. immigration laws and enforcement strategies are no match for the 21st century, and indeed, create unintended consequences: millions of workers in the shadows and vulnerable to exploitation; decent employers undercut by unscrupulous competitors; a ballooning unauthorized immigrant population that relies on false documents to get jobs and get by; a $10 billion a year human trafficking industry increasingly controlled by crime syndicates; and 2,000 thousand deaths at the border over the past five years.The Paradigm for the Debate is Shifting
Thanks in no small measure to the discussions between Presidents Bush and Fox before 9/11, there has been a paradigm shift in how best to address the broken status quo. Instead of a naïve and unsuccessful drive to curtail or stop illegal immigration unilaterally, the challenge as it is now becoming understood is to work with our neighbors to manage our borders securely and efficiently, regulate migration realistically and effectively so that our laws are enforceable, and over time reduce the push pressures that drive Mexicans and others to migrate to the United States.
This will be impossible to achieve unless the U.S. government tries something new: bring U.S. immigration laws into line with U.S. economic realities. Even with the current economic slowdown, the long term demographic and economic trends are unmistakable: the home-grown workforce of Americans is inexorably declining. Undocumented immigrant workers have become an essential safety valve for a labor market projecting a deficit of workers for decades to come. The problem, then, is not bad people violating good laws, but good people frustrated by bad laws.
From Talking the Talk to Walking the Walk
The time has come to move beyond pabulum and platitudes and get about the business of building towards long term comprehensive reform:
Which Way from Here?
The American people want to know who is in the U.S., who is coming to the U.S., and that the federal government is minding the store. Our current strategies are failing to do so. The time has come for leadership from the Bush Administration and Congressional leaders from both parties to take concrete steps now on our way to addressing the regional migration and border security challenges in a comprehensive fashion.
Frank Sharry is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. The Forum, based in Washington D.C., is one of the nation's premier immigration policy organizations, and has a membership of over 200 organizations nationwide. The Forum's mission is to embrace and uphold America's tradition as a nation of immigrants. Since becoming the Forum's Executive Director in 1990, Mr. Sharry has emerged as a leading spokesperson for pro-immigrant policies in the United States. He frequently appears in print and on television, ranging from the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and The Washington Post to debates on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the McLaughlin Group, and CNN's Crossfire.
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