Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Time for Immigration Reform is Now


In short time, the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill will be reviewed by the Senate after many months of delicate negotiation and an exhausting media tour by the bill’s proponents. If the media blitz and the events of Boston have taught us anything it is this: we cannot wait another year for immigration reform.

The arguments already conjured up against the bill are falling flat. The word amnesty is thrown around as if the bill doesn’t include strong provisions requiring the payment of multiple fines and back taxes for circumventing the legal immigration process. It requires individuals who came to the U.S. illegally to get to the back of the line and requires them to learn English. The bill puts the toughest border enforcement mechanisms in the history of the U.S. and fines businesses that hires illegal immigrants over American residents and citizens. What is the alternative?

Jail time is not feasible and would not solve the legal status problem once immigrants are released. Mass deportations are also not reasonable due to the hefty price tag on such a massive operation. Not to mention, such a wide-scale operation strikes me as uncompassionate and reminiscent of witch-hunts. Are we really going to gather people up, place them in temporary holding facilities that don’t presently exist, or at over-capacity prisons, waiting just to be kicked out? Are we really going to maintain all these people in jail, entire families, until we have the buses or airplanes necessary to take them to their country of origin? Are we to drop millions of people on the U.S.-Mexico border and expect them to run back to their country of origin? A country of origin which, as the Boston Marathon attack reminded us, includes European countries, Russia, and Kazakstan? Imagine the national security implications that this and other countries would have by forced deportations of an estimated 12 million people. This operation would be of a global scale since, contrary to a misguided belief, not all 12 million illegal immigrants are from Mexico. Surely, this option would be an unnecessary stain in American history and doing nothing is equally dangerous as a de facto amnesty. 

Opponents also have issues with the triggering mechanisms for border security, arguing that they are too subjective and subject to Secretary Napolitano’s politically motivated discretion. I agree that Napolitano paints a rosy picture of the border and our national security. Border security is a long-term process that started with 9/11 under Bush and continues under Obama. It is sad - but true - that the border has never been more secure despite there still being huge holes that need covering.

Not every foot of the border needs a physical fence, however, since heat detecting sensors and drones can be used to capture illegal entrants miles within our territory. We have learned that physical borders won't keep people out who have the will and find a way to get to the greatest nation on earth. The key is catching them before they do any harm or disappear – and we know we have the capability if we commit the resources to it. This bill significantly increases our capacity to capture illegal entrants and provides specific funding that is dispersed as needs change. Without the bill, we can be sure that improvements in border security will be slow and ineffective. With the bill, we will see significant improvements that will keep our country safe. The benefits outweigh the burdens.

We also know that no pathway to citizenship, even one that is twenty years down the road for most persons here illegally, is a non-starter for Democrats and reason dictates it should be for Republicans as well. First, not all 12 million illegal immigrants will be eligible for a permanent residency status or citizenship; not all of them will choose this route and not all will qualify. Second, what is this GOP insecurity I sense about 12 million Democratic voters ready to be legalized? Are the members of this – my – party so insecure about the GOPs core beliefs that we somehow think our values are incompatible with minorities or newly arrived immigrants? 19th century political parties used to greet immigrants at the ports of New York ready to engage them and win them over. Is the GOP of today really going to put their hands up and refuse to engage these folks because they are new to this country? This is not a winning strategy.

When the bill is debated, we all expect a vocal opposition and few Amendments that offer adaptable alternatives. The fact that this bill is 800 pages long is also no reason for opposing it - can we get to the merits? This piece of legislation makes America safer and more economically competitive in the 21st century. The GOP establishment has already said that giving up and not engaging minorities is not an option if this party is going to be a viable one in national elections. Doing nothing with respect to immigration is also not an option anymore. Ronald Reagan and the Republicans of the 80s were unable to foresee the consequences of granting amnesty. But this, my friends is no amnesty. The conservative approach to immigration reform is here and it needs our support. 

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