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It Is Time To Tackle Immigration Reform

by Stephen W. Yale-Loehr

President Bush's recent statements on immigration reform are a courageous first step toward resolving a complex problem. But do they go far enough? Everyone agrees that we must increase our border security. However, enforcement only works if the law to be enforced is sensible.

While we need secure borders, we also need foreign workers for such diverse purposes as hospitals and nursing homes, high-tech industries, entertainment, teaching, agriculture and just about everything else. At the present time it is virtually impossible to bring these workers in legally or to obtain “papers” for those already here without them. So there should be little wonder why there are so many illegal immigrants when the law doesn't provide a legal way to come here.

Maintaining a supply of able workers-from laborers to highly skilled technicians — keeps our economy strong and helps maintain our place in a world of increasing global competition. If our economy stagnates or declines, we won't need border security, because there will be no reason for people to come here, and we will all suffer as a result.

Furthermore, it's not just U.S. employers that suffer; it's also U.S. families that may have one or more of their family members without legal status. Current processing backlogs and quotas require family members to wait, in many cases more than ten years, before they can reunite. Separating husbands from wives and children from parents does not make our county more secure. Promoting family unity is an overwhelmingly American value, and this country should openly practice what we preach.

Lastly, for those millions of undocumented aliens who are already here, living and working in the shadows, willing but unable to participate in the burdens, not just the benefits, of being legal, immigration reform must include a path to permanent residency and eventually citizenship for those who learn English, pay their taxes and stay out of trouble. Those who came to the United States without papers should have to pay substantial penalties and fees, be fingerprinted, photographed and have background checks conducted, but should be allowed to stay. It is not amnesty when those who have broken our immigration laws must pay hefty fines in order to stay. But it is financially and logistically impossible to deport the ten million plus undocumented aliens already here. Once legal, these aliens can pay their own way, including helping to sustain the social security system. Moreover, law enforcement will have an easier time identifying those in our midst who may intend to do us harm, because everyone will be fingerprinted, photographed and catalogued as an added precondition to their legalization.

So I thank President Bush for initiating this important debate. I urge all political leaders to tackle this politically charged yet critical issue and to see our long term security as dependent on more than bricks, barbed wire and guards with guns.

This article originally appeared in The Ithaca Journal on January 18, 2006.

About The Author

Stephen W. Yale-Loehr is an adjunct professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School and also counsel at Miller Mayer LLP in Ithaca.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.