Immigration reform: The view from California

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California has long been the home of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. So we know a thing or two about which policies help our economy and communities, and which policies hurt us all. 

That’s why we’ve joined more than 100 other California organizations to outline our principles for immigration reform. If followed, Congress could create a set of immigration laws that would make our economy stronger, our families healthier, and our workers better protected. However, some of the policy proposals floating around Washington would fall far short of these goals. 

Here are a few key points we’d like to see in any immigration reform proposal: 

A wide and direct road to citizenship: Any immigration reform proposal must be inclusive, allowing all those living and working in this country to earn citizenship in a timely fashion. How much you can afford, whom you choose to love, or having been arrested for something as minor as selling food without a permit, shouldn’t prevent you from getting on the road to citizenship or separate you from your loved ones. Respecting the unity of the family needs to be at the heart of all immigration legislation. 

Renewed respect for immigrant workers’ rights: Too often, abusive employers place immigrant workers in substandard working conditions, for too little pay. This happens because employers know that they can get away with it: if immigrant workers complain, they risk being deported. Immigrant workers who blow the whistle on abusive employers help all of us in the workforce, and they should be protected from deportation. 

Moreover, proposals that force employers to check all workers’ immigration status against flawed electronic databases lessen the power of all workers and threaten the jobs and privacy of many citizens and work authorized immigrants.

A return to due process in the immigration system: Immigrants threatened with deportation should have their day in court, and those with extensive U.S. ties or special circumstances should be provided with lawyers to help them navigate a complex legal system. 

Even longtime lawful permanent residents often have precious little recourse when fighting immigration cases, because judges are not allowed to decide for themselves whether to deport an individual. Immigration laws should allow the judge to look at the circumstances of each immigration case. That way, people with longstanding ties to the United States will be at less risk of arbitrary deportation. 

A rollback on overzealous immigration detention and deportation practices, and more humane policies at the border: Efforts to locate, detain, and deport immigrants cost the federal government more than the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals, and the Secret Service’s expenditures combined. Some misguided proposals call for an increase on such excessive spending. 

Nowhere is this influx of cash, combined with a disregard for basic rights, more apparent than on the U.S.-Mexico border. Family members of immigrants killed by border patrol agents rarely receive the justice they seek, and those who “appear” foreign, regardless of immigration status, are often victims of racial profiling. 

Programs that do nothing more than detain and deport immigrants are a waste of money and an affront to our most fundamental values of equality. 

Don’t just take our word for it. Last week, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) suggested during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that “Maybe there is an overuse of detention” at ICE. 

Ending mandatory detention policies and halting programs that turn law enforcement into de facto immigration officers would be a good first step toward reining in runaway spending, restoring civil rights, and rebuilding trust between local law enforcement and all communities. 

Creating an efficient ports of entry system that allows free trade of commerce to flourish would help local economies across the country. 

It’s time to move away from our punitive approach to immigrants, and toward a set of policies that recognize immigrants for who they are: people who contribute to our communities and economy.

California attracts dreamers, whether they’re from Boise or Bogota. Although California hasn’t always been welcoming of immigrants, we’ve started to learn from our mistakes. Congress should take a page from our book, and create an inclusive immigration system that moves all of us forward together. 

Hincapie is executive director of the National Immigration Law Center and Shamasunder is executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.