Immigration Reform Efforts at a Dangerous Juncture

Immigrant Leaders Urge Elected Officials to Move Forward with Fair and Sensible Immigration Reform, Avoid Costly Giveaways to Special Interests and Militarized Borders.

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Since late last year, immigrant communities in the US have watched carefully, as first the Senate and now the House of Representatives takes up the issue of immigration reform. As anyone familiar with the system can attest, the country is in urgent need of public policies that can start to repair the many years of neglect that have pushed our immigration laws far out of sync with the realities of modern global migration.

As immigrant communities from Mexico, Central America and the rest of Latin America, we have listened to elected officials tout the growing importance of Latino voters.  In this context, we had high hopes that the US Congress would put an end once and for all to the toxic rhetoric about immigration, and recognize the multiple ways in which immigrant communities, particularly those who reside in the US without authorization, have generously contributed to economic growth and fiscal revenues at all levels of government.

Sadly, the nature of the national conversation about immigration policy reform and about immigrant communities has remained as poisonous as in years past. The most recent turn of events in the legislative process clearly demonstrates how twisted this process has become. In the service of achieving “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” at all costs, our policy makers continue to feed into the erroneous notion that building more walls and essentially turning the US southern border into a permanent war zone, is the “solution” to our broken immigration policy. This is both bad public policy and obscenely wasteful; estimates are in excess of $40 billion over the next 10 years for drones, walls, detentions and other draconian measures.

Washington pundits, particularly the architects and main promoters of the legislative and policy strategy dubbed “Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR),” argue that these measures are part of the political compromise that will finally bring immigration policy reform to the finish line.  From the perspective of folks living outside the Washington, DC bubble, this logic is hard to follow.   As we see it, the goal of good public policy is taking a back seat to concessions to racist, xenophobic and corporate interests that have converged to take advantage of the immigration policy reform debate to push their own agendas.  If we end up with a policy that effectively shuts out many of the people it purports to help, while siphoning large amounts of public funds into private pockets, we run the risk of ending up in a worse situation than the one we are in now. Our country, including all its immigrant communities, deserves better.

Truly responsible and long lasting solutions to our nation’s immigration policy will require a carefully crafted suite of interventions, only a few of which are being addressed in the current legislative process.  For example, if our policy makers were truly concerned about creating conditions for more people in Mexico and the rest of Latin America to remain in their own countries, we should be addressing the factors that have pushed people to come to the US under far from ideal conditions.

While the final outcome of the push for CIR remains uncertain, everyone committed to justice, equality and the respect of basic human rights must be clear that there will be a lot of work ahead of us, with or without legislative action this year. In particular, immigrant communities across the nation will have to find the wisdom and the courage to address the dual challenges of getting the most benefit of any changes to the immigration law that may be enacted this year, while at the same time becoming much better organized to right all the wrongs that the current proposed changes will leave unaddressed. Furthermore, we will need to develop our capacity to address the host of new problems that will be engendered by such a reform. Latin American immigrant communities must rise to this challenge. The best guarantee of a healthy democracy is a highly organized and educated population able to keep our elected officials accountable to the people every single day, not just on Election Day.

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About Amy Shannon

Amy Shannon is a Senior Advisor to NALACC. She has more than two decades of experience in non-profit management and program evaluation, and has traveled and worked extensively in Latin America.

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