November 28, 2012

Fix our broken U.S. immigration system now!

Immigrant rights activists
Immigrant rights activists bring their plea to Washington, D.C. Photo: Carol Fouke-Mpoyo

By Erol Kekic

Election 2012 is over, and the results show that Americans want our broken immigration system to be fixed – and promptly.

Voters saw immigration as a major issue of our day, an issue inseparable from that of the economic recovery.  They clearly rejected as a non-solution the rhetoric of “self-deportation” – trying to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they leave the United States voluntarily.

In Maryland, voters stood in solidarity with undocumented youth, affirming with a supportive vote of 60 percent that they should have access to in-state college tuition alongside their documented colleagues. Polling indicates that not only Marylanders, but also the majority of the nation as a whole, support the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth.

These results should inform and must motivate all elected officials to act, regardless of their party affiliation.  This time, they must heed Americans’ strong message that they want real reform, not empty promises.

Erol Kekic
Erol Kekic

Since the 2012 elections, it is encouraging that both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have been speaking up – and with each other – about comprehensive immigration reform, and that a pathway to legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants is receiving, once again, bipartisan support.

Our elected officials must enact immigration reform that is both humane and practical, and should promote family unity, rather than separating families through raids, detention and deportation.  As they do so, they must recognize immigrants’ importance to the economic recovery and overall economic success of this country – a fact that has been documented in study after study.

For example, The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of more than 450 mayors and business leaders, recently published a report showing that immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses as the U.S. born. One in every 10 people employed at a privately owned business in the United States works at an immigrant-owned company.  These immigrant-owned companies contribute more than $775 billion dollars of revenue annually to the U.S. gross domestic product.  And as the report, “Open for Business,” points out, immigrant-owned businesses pay $126 billion in payroll every year – creating and sustaining the jobs that the candidates have talked so much about.

These contributions by immigrants deserve recognition, celebration, and policy change that reflects this reality.

Faith communities, immigrants’ rights groups, and countless advocates for humane, practical immigration reform have been pressing the White House and Congress hard for decades.  Concrete proposals for reform of our immigration system, which in the past enjoyed the praise and support of both political parties, are on the table and have been for awhile.

Since the 2012 elections, it is encouraging that both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have been speaking up – and with each other – about comprehensive immigration reform, and that a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants is receiving bipartisan support.

Immigration reform is an issue of urgent moral and economic importance to our nation – indeed as an example to the rest of the world, which is watching how this nation of immigrants deals with the global phenomenon of human migration today.

Erol Kekic is Director of the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program, based in New York.