Congress must pass comprehensive reform

As we honor Martin Luther King Jr. this week, his message of justice for all resonates.

“Justice cannot be divided,” he said. “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.”

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Immigration reform must provide undivided justice, which means it must be comprehensive, because all of its parts need fixing.

If Congress provides reform that boosts corporate profits by favoring a small number of skilled workers but does nothing to enable 11 million people to come out of the shadows — if we update visa mechanisms but ignore those who are already here — then we have failed.

If we put even more officers on the border but do nothing to provide American children with confidence that their parents will come home each day, then we have failed. If we provide justice for only the interest groups with resources to hire the most Washington lobbyists, we have failed.

In particular, failing to provide a path forward for undocumented immigrants leaves us with nothing but the impossible prospect of deporting 11 million people. Such a stalemate will continue to drive wages and tax revenue down as unscrupulous employers take advantage of immigrant workers.

It will heighten the difficulty of law enforcement, as immigrants remain afraid to report crimes, help officers deport criminals, or respond to the census. And it will leave American-born children suspended in a perpetual state of fear for their family stability. We cannot accept this outcome.

Last Congress, a remarkable coalition came together from across political and economic divides. People from every walk of life agreed that the idea that we can heal the immigration system by placing Band-aids on a few discrete parts is illusory — inadequate in effect and abhorrent in its moral message.

Advocates for businesses, workers, law enforcement, civil liberties, and faiths of every persuasion recognized that our broken system affects everyone and that fixing only parts of it cannot provide a true solution.

Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce spoke at the same rallies as leaders of the AFL-CIO. Police officers and evangelical leaders joined their voices with the ACLU. Every segment of society and every section of the ideological spectrum joined together in calling for comprehensive reform.

If Congress pursues a piecemeal approach, the first casualty will be this broad-based coalition. If any one interest group can achieve its preferred reforms without committing time and resources to a comprehensive solution, the coalition will fall apart, and so will the goal of justice and fairness for all.

Any one interest with the resources and clout to win a fight on Capitol Hill is, unfortunately, unlikely to have the goal of helping others who may lack that political sway. That is not to disparage anyone; it is simply a reality that once an interest group achieves its objectives, its willingness and incentive to fight for everybody else will inevitably diminish.

And in today’s Washington, the losers in a piecemeal scenario will be the poor and powerless: American workers struggling to protect their rights and undocumented immigrants praying for a fair chance to build their American dream. No matter how compelling their message, the powerless do not have the lobbyists, the campaign donations or the marketing apparatus to win on their own.

I object to a piecemeal outcome for both moral reasons — justice for some without justice for all is not justice — and for practical ones. Failing to provide a realistic path forward for 11 million people already in this country helps no one and harms us all.

In addition to a path forward for the 11 million undocumented immigrants and an end to deportation of children who grew up in this country, I support a variety of immigration reforms.

I support reforms to the legal immigration system designed to help highly skilled workers from around the world contribute to the American economy. I believe, for example, that reforms like the Immigration Innovation Act, which I have co-sponsored, are essential for ensuring American competitiveness today and in the future. But they are necessary as part of comprehensive reform that includes stronger, stricter protections for immigrant and American workers alike. I support efforts to stop the American immigration system from enabling human trafficking.

The only way to achieve enduring progress is to make reform comprehensive, not piecemeal. That goal may seem difficult and daunting, but it was achieved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the last Senate, and it is feasible in this Congress if we fight together.

The tide of immigration reform can and should raise all ships.

Blumenthal is Connecticut’s senior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Armed Services; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Judiciary; and Veterans’ Affairs committees.