Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Lesson on Immigration

Miami Herald Editorial

Here’s a homework assignment for members of Congress: During summer recess, take home the Council on Foreign Relations report on immigration reform. Read it carefully. It’s a bipartisan blueprint for how to fix our broken immigration system.Twice, in 2006 and 2007, legislative efforts to reform immigration fell apart. Emotionally charged arguments over what to do about the 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country turned the legislative debate into a futile shouting match.Since then, the flow of undocumented workers has slowed down as the job market tightens in this recession. But recessions don’t fix dysfunctional immigration systems. Undocumented immigrants are still here, living in the shadows.

Recession or no, most still won’t leave voluntarily. Border fence or no, many still manage to enter the country. Workplace raids or no, most find work.

This situation, amply documented in the council’s report, “diminishes respect for the law, creates potential security risks, weakens labor rights, strains U.S. relations with its Mexican neighbor and unfairly burdens public education and social services in many states.” That about covers it.

The report lays out a strong, credible case for reform that refutes the shrill arguments and thinly veiled appeals to bigotry that have characterized earlier efforts.

Adjusting the status of foreign workers and their families, for instance, should be embraced under the concept of “earned legalization.”

Immigrants would be required “to show a history of employment in the United States, to prove that they had paid taxes, to be in the process of studying English and learning about U.S. history and government, to pass criminal and security background checks and to pay significant fines along with the application fee.” As the report dryly notes, “These are not the ingredients of an amnesty.”

The council’s 160-page report was produced by a committee co-chaired by former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty. It states that, “If the United States continues to mishandle its immigration policy, it will damage one of the vital underpinnings of American prosperity and security, and could condemn the country to a long, slow decline in its status in the world.”

Too dire? Not at all. We are a nation of immigrants, skilled and unskilled, and must remain one to stay strong and productive.

Skilled, educated immigrants expand the envelope of the economy. The current immigration system, however, does not make it easy for them.

Furthermore, there is a direct correlation between the influx of unskilled foreign workers and the wellbeing of the economy, particularly with demographic trends showing an aging America. The absence of foreign workers would require the government to encourage Americans to take unskilled jobs. Is that what Americans want?

It’s encouraging that the president last month met with a few lawmakers and activists to reaffirm his commitment to reform.

Less encouraging: he did not set a deadline for action. Nor has Mr. Obama dealt fairly with Haitian immigrants seeking temporary protected status while their country recovers from a series of devastating storms. Haitians deserve TPS as much as Central Americans, who received it in the past. Why the hold up?

The administration has taken some positive interim steps, though. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has replaced workplace raids that tear up families with a less confrontational approach, using fines and other sanctions against employers.

The nation’s police chiefs — including Miami Chief John Timoney — are fully behind the effort to overhaul immigration policy. For good reason. Dealing with immigration, which should remain a federal enforcement issue, is a distraction from the priority of catching violent criminals and stopping terrorism. Local police need the trust of immigrant communities to fight real crime.

Stepped-up security along the U.S. border is doing a much better job of preventing illegal immigration, but only Congress can deal with those already here. Even with a crowded legislative agenda, reform should be a priority — this year. Waiting until an election year guarantees another round of futility.

Study hard, members of Congress. Your leadership will be tested after you return to the Capitol.

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