Reform can’t wait
Editorial in The Bennington Banner, Monday July 12, 2010
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., living testament to the fact that our immigration system is indeed broken.
The great majority of them are decent people here for a better life for themselves and their families. Mostly from Latin America, the adults come here to work, often in jobs U.S. citizens won’t fill.
In some areas of the economy and parts of the country, illegal immigrants have become part of the fabric of society. The federal government estimates, for instance, that more than 60 percent of farmworkers in the U.S. are illegal immigrants.
President Obama in a July 1 speech, his first to deal solely with immigration, offered a viable framework for comprehensive and workable immigration reform. As he does at his best, Mr. Obama rejected false choices.
Some advocates would have us look the other way and let those who have come here illegally to work face no possibility of being deported or suffer other penalities as long as they otherwise obey the law.
At the other extreme, there are those who would trample on common sense, civil liberties and human decency to root out illegal immigrants as if they were dangerous criminals who all should be deported immediately. The new Arizona law, which the Obama administration is challenging in court, is a case in point.
Instead, Mr. Obama presented a reform program that would make demands on government, businesses and individuals. For its part, government needs to keep up its efforts to secure our borders. In fact, as the president noted in his speech, we have more people enforcing the Southwestern border than at any other time in our history.
But border control is not enough. The key to the Obama approach is to hold employers who hire illegal immigrants strictly accountable, while at the same time giving employers the tools to identify those who, for instance, are applying for work with fake or recycled Social Security numbers.
If people who cross the border illegally find they cannot and will not be hired -- or will be fired immediately when their documentation is examined -- this will be a powerful disincentive to stay in the U.S. or to come here to begin with.
Finally, the Obama approach would demand responsibility from those who are here illegally. Far from enjoying an undemanding "amnesty," they would be required to admit they broke the law, be required to register, pay taxes, pay a fine and learn English. Then they could get in line and apply for citizenship.
As the president noted in his July 1 speech, stopping illegal immigration should go hand in hand with reforming our inadequate legal immigration system. There is a need to make it less time-consuming, expensive and restrictive on those from other countries who are following the rules in their desire to become Americans.
The conventional wisdom these days is that immigration reform is dead on arrival. Democrats in Congress won’t touch it because it is too controversial and they are already afraid for their political lives in November.
For their part, Republicans occupy a political party that frequently flirts with nativism these days, further to the right now than in 2006 and 2007, when to his credit, then-President George W. Bush pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. The Republican votes that once existed for reform have apparently evaporated -- including that of Arizona’s own Sen. John McCain.
However, this is not an issue we can afford to put off for much longer. Border communities and states do at times feel themselves severely burdened, as the misguided Arizona law indicates. Left to fester, this issue will remain just one more wedge to further polarize our society. Moreover, a nation that cannot control its own borders can hardly have pretensions of knowing what’s best for nations on the other side of globe.
Additionally, as a nation built by immigrants, a place that has been a destination of hope and a refuge for the world’s downtrodden, the United States needs a workable, just and humane immigration system to maintain its ideals and preserve its soul.
Indeed, when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform: Yes, we must.