This is the second of two pieces I’ve written about immigration reform policy. The fist piece, which I posted on March 19, took a critical look at a proposal for immigration reform outlined by Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham. This piece gives my ideas for what should be included in a moral comprehensive immigration reform.
On Friday, March 19, even as a year’s worth of debates around healthcare were coming to a close, two senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wrote a piece for The Washington Post in which they outlined a bi-partisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.
It was a mixed bag. I gave an analysis of their proposal in an earlier post, and, for the most part, I was critical of what the two senators set forth as a first step in the long journey toward comprehensive immigration reform. Such criticism is not particularly constructive, however, unless it is coupled with alternate ideas and suggestions for what actually will work; to that end I have identified five elements that I feel must be included in any morally responsible immigration reform bill.
These five elements come from the introduction to my forthcoming book Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration. (The book, by the way, will not be released until the middle of August, but, thanks to the foresight and quick work of the folks at Westminster John Knox Press, you can pre-order a copy at Amazon.com.) My book primarily is about people and not policy, but it seemed fair, at the beginning of the book, to say which elements I believe should be a part of immigration reform legislation. I came up with these elements after spending a lot of time studying the issues, visiting the U.S./Mexico border, and interviewing dozens people from many different walks of life. Here, then, are the elements I believe must be part of moral, comprehensive, immigration reform:
1. The United States Government must provide visas for seasonal work, particularly for those working in the agriculture sector. Issuing visas for seasonal work would likely have the effect of decreasing the number of immigrants from Mexico living permanently in the United States because with visas workers could return to Mexico at the end of each season and not feel compelled to move their families north. This is a conviction I share with Senators Schumer and Graham and nearly everyone else I have met—liberal and conservative, in Mexico and in the United States—who is knowledgeable and wise about immigration matters.
2. Families should be kept together. Current laws that separate mixed-status spouses or that deport parents, separating them from their children, should be changed. When parents are deported, leaving citizen children without a mother or a father, no one benefits.
3. Children brought across the border by their parents should be treated differently than adults who immigrated alone, even after those children are adults. Under current immigration law adults who came to the United States as children are treated exactly as if they themselves had made the decision to immigrate. If they lack documentation, they live under the constant threat of deportation, and in many states they are denied drivers’ licenses, seriously hampering their chances of finding meaningful work. Even if they are legal residents, they face the possibility of deportation even for relatively minor offenses.
4. The border fence should be left to rust in the desert, or, better yet, uprooted and sold for scrap. If I could do so with any kind of efficacy, I’d stand by the fence that now runs along the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Rio Grande, and I’d declare with every possible ounce of conviction “Mr. Obama, tear down this wall!” The fence is not necessary—our nation’s southern border already runs through a mountainous desert which provides excellent border protection and national security, and makes the fence redundant. Also, at a cost of more than a billion dollars, the border fence is a ridiculous waste of money and, often, a tragic waste of human life. The wall doesn’t keep people out of the United States; it just encourages people to cross the border in increasingly dangerous places. Besides, as expensive as walls and fences are to build and maintain, ladders are cheap. The only people who benefit from the wall are politicians whose constituents like easy answers to complex issues.
5. I firmly believe that the movement of goods and services across the border should be controlled. Duty fees must be collected and contraband must be stopped, but the best way to control the flow of people is with economic development south of the border and with enforcement north of the border that targets business that hire undocumented persons rather than the migrants themselves.
My opinions are not unique to the progressive community in the United States, nor are they original to me. I heard variations on these themes everywhere I went in the United States and Mexico researching my book. This is not to say that everyone in the United States and Mexico agrees with me—not even close—but when discussions around immigration are educated, thoughtful, and are separated from fear, prejudice and xenophobia, consensus starts to appear and that consensus looks an awful lot like the five points I’ve made above.