By Frank Sharry
Washington, DC A year that once held so much promise for improving America’s immigration system is closing on several down notes. While there is great hope for accomplishing a major overhaul of our legal immigration system next year, 2006 is ending with raids, roundups, rate increases, and renewed anti-immigrant hostility.
The recent headline-grabbing raids will do nothing to control immigration, but have already done plenty to terrorize immigrant families. Hundreds of children were or will be separated from one or more parents and fear has been ignited in immigrant communities across the country. What’s the point? We need effective immigration enforcement to be sure, but unless it happens within the context of a functioning legal immigration system it only serves to make a bad situation worse. We simply cannot deport our way out of the current immigration mess, nor should we want to. The only way to reestablish control over immigration is through targeted enforcement of laws made enforceable through legal immigration reforms. We can indeed restore the rule of law in our immigration system, but we cannot do so unless we also respect labor market needs and reunite close family members.
An additional sign of our failed immigration policies is the expected fee increases to be announced by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). A substantial increase in the price of citizenship is expected. What now costs $400 is expected to double. Meanwhile, the service provided for those fees is abysmal. In effect, the federal government is gauging immigrants while simultaneously erecting more barriers to citizenship, assimilation, and civic participation.
Finally, when we return to the immigration reform debate next year, it is our hope it will be conducted with more civility than it was this year. The bitter policy differences and hard fought campaigns brought forth some of the harshest anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent memory. Television and radio talk show hosts take delight in dancing right up to the edge of acceptable debate. Now some members of Congress seem determined to follow their lead.
Let’s commit to making 2007 the turning point. Let’s have next year be the moment of truth in which those political leaders committed to leading marginalize those politicians more interested in dividing. Where to look for inspiration? How about the public? Poll after poll tells the story: the public wants smart solutions and comprehensive fixes, not snarky slogans and useless fences. So, here is our New Year’s resolution: we resolve to make 2007 the year in which the Congress enacts and the President signs a workable comprehensive immigration reform bill that restores our traditions as both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Now, that would be a wonderful holiday gift to the nation.
Frank Sharry is Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan pro-immigrant advocacy group in Washington, DC.