The Immigration Reform Americans Deserve
“Our immigration system is broken: we have 11 million undocumented immigrants without the ability to get right with the law. Eliminating enforcement priorities — and focusing on deporting as many of the 11 million as possible- is absolutely the wrong approach and harms public safety. Instead, we need enforcement priorities focused on real public safety threats, and we should create a process for those living here illegally to get right with the law through a background check, a fine and ultimately the ability to earn permanent status.”
“Our immigration system is broken.” You hear that a lot. So — what does it mean? It means that our system of immigration laws is archaic, that these laws were written decades ago and do not work as intended, and that “fully enforcing” these laws — rather than reforming the laws — to their completion would do irreparable harm to our nation. Our laws make no sense: for native-born Americans, for competing in a global economy, and for immigrants, and for out nation’s best interests.
Why? We have 11 million undocumented immigrants who have no ability to “get right with the law,” no line where they can go to the back of, or any ability to adjust their status. We have a legal visa system that is 5 decades old and makes little sense for today’s economic needs and American families. About half of these 11 million people have been in this country for at least 15 years; many millions came in the mid-1990s. They live in every city and state in the country, have millions of U.S. citizen spouses and children, and work alongside tens of millions of native-born citizens, adding roughly $5 trillion to the American economy over a 10-year period.
It is a fully-debunked myth to say immigrants compete in meaningful numbers with native-born Americans or are taking jobs away. Overall, immigrants have almost no short-term impact on wages. In the long term, immigrants not only raise productivity and economic growth, but wages for native-born Americans as well. Areas and industries with higher concentrations of high-skilled immigrants have seen wage growth for native-born Americans that has outpaced the rest of the country.
We have problems with our high-skilled immigration system — but instead of pointing at the problems and blaming all immigrants, let’s fix the system to make it easier to attract the best and brightest and to protect American workers. A modern legal visa system will help rebuild a 21st century middle class in a global economy.
The Administration’s new interior enforcement memos lay the groundwork for a large-scale ramp up in deportations of undocumented immigrants from every corner of the U.S. They remove the critical deportation priorities that allow law enforcement to focus on actual public safety threats such as MS-13 and rapists and murderers. This is not rhetoric — it is the reality of where we find ourselves as a country today.
Note for example this story in the New York Times this week, “Police Fear Trump Immigration Orders May Handcuff Effort to Fight Gangs,” which outlined the problems Suffolk County police and prosecutors are facing in solving the murders of five teenagers because undocumented immigrants in their community are too afraid to cooperate because they fear incarceration and deportation by the federal government.
There are more stories like this in communities across the country, and this is the real life problem with expanding the definition of what is a “criminal” to include everyone whose only violation is immigration-related.
If the goal is to find and deport violent criminals — like rapists and murderers — who are in the country illegally, then it is a disservice to these goals when taxpayer dollars and law enforcement time are spent rounding up undocumented mothers who have no criminal record, or victims of domestic violence when at a courthouse receiving a protective order.
Here’s what we should do: Design a new, modern legal visa system that brings people here legally in the future, and — to fulfill today’s economic needs — have smart border security and enforcement priorities so law enforcement can focus on real public safety threats and do their jobs. We should also must create a process for undocumented immigrants to earn permanent legal status after they pass a background check.
This isn’t “amnesty” — legalization is a multi-step, decade plus long process. Quite the opposite: this is how we get control over our immigration system. For the millions of undocumented immigrants who came to this country in the 1990s, most would spend two decades living without legal status and at least another decade without permanent status. Three decades without legal status and another 10–15 years on parole, earning legal status if they pass a background check, pay back taxes and fines, and stay out of legal trouble is a tough, but fair process. That’s why in the newest public polling, 80% of Americans, and 72% of Trump voters, choose this pathway over trying to push out millions of undocumented immigrants.
Until we fix each aspect of our broken immigration system, we will face bad choices — and miss out on the opportunity to design a 21st century immigration system that grows the economy, helps strengthen the American middle class, and puts a focus on real security.