The president's approach loosens out-dated country quotas, promises to make the sluggish immigration system more efficient, calls on employers to verify that workers are in the U.S. legally, promotes family unity, and opens the field for investors and innovators to have less arduous entry to the U.S. These steps are good for America. They make us more competitive in the global economy and renew America's promise as the land of opportunity and protector of human rights.
To open a pathway to citizenship, both plans call for background checks, payment of a penalty and back taxes, learning English, and getting in back of the line to obtain residency. Both plans estimate it will take 8 years before new applicants will achieve permanent residency and another 5 years for citizenship. Using the “back of the line” model, there are visas pending since 1992. Unless this system is fixed, the estimated 8 year wait could be much longer.
The GOP and the president differ on enforcement. Since 2008, President Obama has deported about 1.5 million immigrants, about half of whom were dangerous criminals, which is more than under the administrations of President Clinton and Bush, combined. Unfortunately, some want to make the pathway to citizenship contingent on further border security. In other words, if the legislation is passed with this language, even if the undocumented immigrant has passed all the requirements to become a resident, the immigrant will have to wait until the border is sealed. Basically, the immigrant’s future is being held hostage. How realistic is this? The border cannot ever be 100 percent sealed off, despite unlimited use of surveillance drones, the National Guard, a 20 foot high concrete fence and more boarder guards. Fortunately, the flow of illegal immigration north is now reversed thanks to the use of stepped up enforcement and increased opportunity in Mexico. It is particularly curious to listen to some conservatives call for reduced spending while at the same time press for more money for drones, a 2000 mile fence, a militarized border and a ramped up deportation machine, when current enforcement is working.
Here’s a note to the GOP: if it wants to revive its image and win back the Latino vote, it needs to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform without insurmountable hoops. Surely, the GOP does not want to be seen as stalling here as the 2014 elections approach. Ultimately, this proposed legislation will not only strengthen existing enforcement, but will offer 11 million undocumented hopefuls a share of the American Dream. It could actually happen this time.
Bruno is the former U.S. ambassador to Belize and founding member of Americans by Choice. Mesa is an immigration reform activist. Both are attorneys with LawServe, a Manchester, N.H. based immigration law firm.