Immigration Reform a Priority

The U.S. immigration system is broken, simply stated. We built this country on newcomers. Foreigners have long contributed to our society, leaving us with a culture full of diverse influences in language, cuisine, music, and more. Yet, consistently we have resorted to xenophobic behaviors against numerous non-English speaking immigrant communities.

Today, these tendencies continue, mostly against Latin Americans who enter illegally through the U.S.-Mexico border. The American public holds numerous misconceptions about illegal immigration and the immigration system. Overall, public opinion chastises undocumented residents for “cheating the system.” They ask, if they want to be here so badly, why don’t they just come here legally? This argument does not account for the fact that our immigration system has stark limitations. Those who come illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border are largely unskilled workers. The annual quota on green cards for all low-skilled workers remains at 5,000, an insufficient amount to satisfy the demand. Our immigration system persists to be too outdated to function properly in our society. The matter of the 11 illegal immigrants in the U.S. who have no path to citizenship or even residency remains problematic.

U.S. lawmakers must act soon to resolve the growing issues in the immigration process. President Obama admitted that the system is broken in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. While he only briefly commented on the issue on Tuesday, he highlighted the benefits immigration reform would bring, stating that the economy would grow and the deficit would shrink by almost $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years. Obama insisted, “When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody.” Fixing the immigration system will not only benefit the country economically, but it can restore the ideals of the American Dream that have been lost as of late. Many of our ancestors flocked to this country to fulfill the American Dream. Today, the same can be said of a new generation of immigrants, fleeing their countries due to economic despair and political reasons. They yearn for the American Dream, but due to a faulty immigration system, this class of immigrants largely live in poor conditions with inadequate compensation for their work. In order for these individuals to achieve the American Dream, we need to integrate them into our society.

Immigration reform should be made a top policy priority this year. The current political environment has made reaching a joint decision on the matter quite impossible. Until recently both parties have set hard lines on the issue, causing reform bills to continually fail in Congress. The Democrats have called for a path to citizenship or nothing, while the Republicans have advocated self-deportation of the 11 million illegal residents.  Now, leaders of both parties appear to soften their stances. President Obama stated he would cooperate with the republicans to find a middle ground on immigration reform.

Additionally, House Republicans have drafted a plan that includes a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants and would allow children brought to the United States illegally a chance to obtain citizenship.  While, I’m sure members of the GOP will be hesitant to bring such a bill to vote, the actions of party leaders demonstrate a great deal of progress. Immigration reform must be a bipartisan effort. While I fully support the naturalization of undocumented residents, the plan proposed by the Republicans is rather concessionary and marks an enormous step for the Republican party. Hopefully, joint political efforts will continue and we will see true immigration reform this year.