Lawmakers and first steps with immigration reform in 2013

By Armando Bellmas

The Latin American Coalition is optimistic about the plans for immigration reform released this week by both the U.S. Senate and President Obama, setting the stage for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in our communities. While the remarks from both the Senators and the President are steps in a positive direction, we have some very serious concerns.

Immigration reform is about keeping families together, first and foremost. This ultimate goal is not mentioned in either framework. Families across the country are being torn apart by our country’s current patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies. President Obama’s administration alone has separated more parents from their children through deportation than any other administration. The moral case for immigration reform is overwhelming and getting louder.

Making a path to citizenship contingent on any type of border security and increased enforcement is unnecessary. The United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement and border security than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and ATF. The past 10 years have seen unprecedented and overwhelming increases in the number of border patrol agents, border wall construction, unmanned aerial vehicles and border militarization. Such vigorous enforcement and security, coupled with President Obama’s sharp increase in removals, have decreased undocumented migration into the U.S. Any plan linking citizenship to border security and more enforcement is mere political posturing.

A plan for immigration reform must fairly and equally include the “world’s best and brightest” who receive a PhD or Master’s degree in American universities to the low-skilled, but extremely valuable immigrants who perform the very important and difficult work that Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do. Most of these people have worked very hard for many years and have contributed so much to our economy to earn a path to citizenship. Forcing them to the “back of the line”- an immigration line that, frankly, doesn’t exist– is deferring the details instead of dealing with them now.

A clear and realistic path to citizenship- more fair than tough- will be far more effective in reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants than billions spent on punitive enforcement measures. 2013 must be the year that Congress will pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans. This is because the American people support it; Democrats want it; and Republicans need it. And our movement- which gets stronger every day- stands ready to make sure it happens. This is the right thing to do for the country, and now is the time.

¡Ya es hora!