Immigration Nation

Immigration debate overlooks need for development south of the border

Today, thousands of Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, will walk out from their homes, jobs, and classrooms to take part in a nationwide protest. They will be protesting the recent immigration reform proposals to come out of Congress, proposals generally designed to strengthen the national integrity and sovereignty of the United States. We agree that illegal immigration is an issue of vital importance to the U.S. and feel that the best way to fix the problem, among the proposals being debated in Congress, is the two- pronged approach of domestic improvements and border strengthening offered by the McCain-Kennedy Bill. More importantly, however, we wish that the current debate included more of an emphasis on the economic development of Latin America as a means of addressing the immigration issues.

It would be both impossible and undesirable to remove the 11 to 20 million illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. The McCain-Kennedy Bill crucially offers a path to citizenship for those who have been in the U.S. for more than two years, while still deterring future would-be illegals. Illegal immigrants would have to get a temporary work visa, pay a $2,000 fine, pay back taxes, undergo a background check, learn English, and work for several more years before applying for citizenship. We support this compromise approach, which both acknowledges the illegality of the action and also allows for a pragmatic end to the situation and eventual citizenship.

Without the goal of citizenship, temporary work visas would create a dual class system in America, a reality which is both undesirable and unsustainable. Additionally, deporting immigrants en masse and criminalizing them in the manner some have proposed would be unthinkable and inhumane in our modern world. Many of these immigrants have been in the country for long periods of time, assimilating into and shaping American culture, essentially living the American dream. America has always been a nation of immigrants; immigrants drive our economy, strengthen our culture, and allow us to remain strong, free, and a nation of integrity. Criminals must be reprimanded, but our values and origins must not be forgotten.

Of course, dealing with those illegal immigrants already here is only part of the solution. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Saturday, noted that “[Illegal immigrants] are here illegally; they’ve broken our laws to get here.” As McCain further stated, “Our first obligation is to enforce our borders.” Any serious immigration reform must include strengthening of our porous borders. Liberalizing immigration laws must be joined by eliminating ways to skirt those laws. Those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally must be stopped before they are successful; our strategy must be proactive rather than reactive. Exactly what form this increased security will take must be left to officials on the borders. While we strongly oppose a fence across all 1,951 miles of our border with Mexico, if in limited areas a fence or wall would help secure and defend America, we support the U.S.’s right and ability to build such a barrier. Our immigration policy must be inviting, but it is vital for our nation’s security that we control who enters the U.S.

Finally, and most importantly, an immigration policy that does not recognize the root of the problem is merely applying a bandage to a severed limb. Lost in much of the recent discussion is the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border is home to the largest disparity of wealth in the world. The per capita GDP of Mexico is one quarter that of the U.S., and an estimated 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. This vast inequality of wealth drives many to seek a better life in the U.S., regardless of the illegality and danger of the means. The average farmer has no philosophical underpinnings for his immigration; he is trying neither to change the world nor bring down the United States, but only to provide food and a better life for his family. The prosperity of our southern neighbors is inextricably bound up in our own prosperity. If we wish to stop illegal immigration, development must be encouraged in other nations so people do not desire so strongly to leave.

The failure on Friday to reach an agreement on immigration policy is disappointing. We hope that when Congress reconvenes in two weeks, they will quickly and efficiently pursue a solution to this vital issue facing our nation today. Through domestic policy improvements, strengthening of the border, and fostering development in Latin American countries, we can take steps toward solving the problem of illegal immigration. The time is right for this issue to be addressed.