What happens when the immigration system is “strengthened” without being improved? Some legislators want to focus on adding provisions to the current immigration system to make it more difficult for immigrants to settle in the United States, insisting that immigrants should pursue the “proper channels” to achieve permanent residence. But the proper channels are very limited (expensive, time-consuming, etc.) and exclude thousands of hard-working immigrants from aspiring to the American Dream. Amending the Immigration and Nationality Act to increase obstacles for immigration before comprehensive immigration reform only makes the system a larger instrument of injustice than it already is.
First, what we should never do is underestimate the will of people to better their lives and those of their families. Immigration, legal or otherwise, will not cease just because we make it more difficult to cross borders or to remain in the United States. This means that the costly measures we’ve been employing to deter illegal immigration are a waste of time and tax-payers’ money.
Second, from a humanitarian standpoint, we cannot deny any people their right to pursue happiness, especially when the American Dream has been made possible by immigrants, it goes against American ideals set forth in our Constitution.
Third, from a commercial standpoint, America needs immigrants to do the jobs that Americans refuse to do. American employers know this and they take advantage of it by paying immigrants lower wages and that is why immigration will continue to rise as living conditions in other countries worsen.
Despite the fact that “tightening” immigration control without reform is not smart, ethical or financially sound, the Bush administration decided to “crack down on illegal immigration” exercising policies that punished immigrants for trying to improve their lives. One of these policies, carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was that of performing raids in the workplace and flying detainees back to their countries of origin. A recent Reuters article reports that this year U.S deportation flights are sending an average of 4200 undocumented immigrants every week back to their countries, compared to 3700 a week last year. The article also says that with the change in administration came a change in deportation policies; Obama’s policy focuses on deporting undocumented immigrants who have been convicted for criminal acts. But enforcement is only secondary to reform and cannot and should not exist without it.
Enforcing our current immigration system and avoiding comprehensive immigration reform represents a disservice to Americans. It is a misuse of their tax money; because policies are ineffective and a temporary solution at best. It is also largely incongruent with American values that stand for the dignity of human beings, the right to freedom and pursuit of happiness, and the value of family unity. And it is a disservice to those American citizens who have parents, brothers, sisters, significant others, etc. who are undocumented immigrants.
In order to truly protect America, its values and its citizens, we MUST stand for an immigration reform that is comprehensive and that upholds the dignity of all human beings. We MUST stand for an immigration reform that paves a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants, not too different than those first immigrants who helped build this beloved nation of ours. And we MUST protect families from the devastating consequences of separation brought about by deportation. These goals MUST be accomplished before we even begin to talk about punishment for those who choose not to go through the proper channels. Only when those proper channels have been opened to them can we judge their decisions and impose penalties for disregard to our laws because it is only then that they truly have a choice, and it is only when our laws are fair that can we proudly stand to uphold them.
By Carolina Rizzo, DC Policy Intern