Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Ins and Outs of Immigration Reform

The Immigration Dilemma- Week 6

Over the past five weeks, I've attempted to give you all a sense of the immigration dilemma as it currently stands in the United States. Opinions are frequently polarized into pro- vs. anti- immigrant positions without taking into account the complexities of immigration law and history, the legal immigration system, and the push/pull cause and effects of undocumented migration. Without an understanding of these complexities, immigration concerns arise that have no factual basis.

The result?

A stalemate in Congress and a worsening status quo.

If this series has shown you nothing else, I hope you are now able to see how broken our current immigration system is. There are decades-long backlogs in the family immigration system. There is virtually no legal way for low-skilled workers to migrate to the United States. And while I did not get into delve into this aspect much in this series, immigrants are frequently denied due process protection and basic human rights as they are apprehended and detained.

In a society which is built upon the values of justice, opportunity, and equality, we need real solutions to the immigration dilemma that uphold these values and help us move forward together. We need comprehensive immigration reform.

Now, people always ask me "What would this look like?" or "How would you make real solutions?" So this final post I have dedicated to laying out the 8 elements that we at FCNL see as vital to creating an orderly, equitable, and efficient legal immigration system.

One. Realistic Legal Avenues for Future Migration
Recognizing the importance of immigrant labor in the U.S. economy, we believe there needs to be an expansion of legal avenues for workers (including low-skilled workers) to migrate to the United States in a safe and legal manner. These new legal avenues must protect immigrant workers’ rights, including the ability to bring their families with them, to change their place of employment, and to apply for lawful permanent status and eventual citizenship. Such avenues must be designed to meet the legitimate needs of the economy without undercutting workers already in the United States.

Two. Family Unity
Recognizing the critical role of family in the development of healthy individuals and communities, we think that immigration policies need to make family reunification a top priority, equally respecting the rights of opposite-sex and same-sex couples. Reform of the family immigration system should revise family preference categories and per-country caps, expedite the processing of visa applications caught up in lengthy visa backlogs, and remove bars to reentry and adjustment of status for those seeking to reunite with family. Family visas should not be placed in competition with employment visas.

Three. Protection for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Other Displaced Persons
Immigration policies should support openness to refugees and those seeking asylum. We live in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, and our planet is undergoing potentially dramatic climate changes that threaten to displace millions of people. Refugee and asylum policy should support those displaced by conflict, oppression, environmental change, natural disaster, and economic destitution.

Four. An Equitable Path to Legal Status and Eventual Citizenship
Immigration reform must create a reasonable and inclusive path for undocumented immigrants, multi-status families, refugees, and asylees to regularize their status and earn eventual citizenship. Such a program must be workable and not hindered by overly punitive criteria.

Five. Protection for All Workers
Immigration policies must ensure that all people can work with dignity. Laws governing wages, hours, health, and safety should be strictly enforced, the ability to organize protected, and remedies to redress workplace grievances made available to all workers, regardless of immigration status. Abiding by strict labor and employment laws would remove the economic incentive for employers to import undocumented and temporary labor, practices which can be used to undercut wages, job security, and working conditions for those already in the United States. Immigration policies should augment the Department of Labor’s ability to enforce labor laws, not hinder it by creating a climate of fear that employers can use to exploit immigrant workers.

Six. Immigrant Integration
Immigration policies should support communities with high concentrations of immigrants and facilitate immigrant integration. The U.S. immigration system should ensure that communities are able to welcome immigrants by providing federal support to state and local governments and organizations to provide multi-lingual and civics education, outreach, and naturalization assistance. The immigration system should also ensure that all immigrants, regardless of status, have access to social services such as health care, and that immigrants can trust local police by revoking 287(g) agreements.

Seven. Due Process Protection and Reformed Detention Policies
All persons, regardless of immigration status, should be afforded due process protection; detention policies should be reformed to uphold human and civil rights. Due process protection for immigrants includes—but is not limited to—the end of mandatory detention and expedited removal, access to legal counsel and law libraries, independent judicial review of individual circumstances before removal, and the ability to challenge detention before an independent judicial body in a timely manner. Binding detention standards should also be developed to ensure access to basic rights, such as adequate access to health care, protection from unnecessary restraints and arbitrary transfer, and access to telephones.

Eight. Enforcement Aligned with Humanitarian Values
Immigration enforcement must be realigned with humanitarian values. Over the last twenty years, immigration enforcement has been built on the concepts of fear, isolationism, and misplaced blame. This has led to the construction of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, indiscriminate home and workplace raids, and Border Patrol activity as far as 100 miles within the U.S. border. None of these measures have effectively stemmed undocumented migration, yet such policies have desecrated sacred religious sites, violated numerous environmental laws, and induced human and civil rights abuses. Such policies should not be a part of a reformed immigration system.


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