June 1, 2007

Immigration: The issue of our generation

Focus on Community:
By Patty Chavez

Every generation has its issues that instigates uproar, anger and debate. Our generation is no exception as we ride out ongoing debates on urban growth, health care, redevelopment and immigration. Debates sometimes come with personal emotions, and no one is immune, even those with the best intentions. We feel an urge to protect ourselves, our families and our futures, sometime forgetting our kind hearts.

Immigration is at the helm of emotional debates and is one of the more divisive to date. In Los Angeles just weeks ago, its police department violently crushed a large peaceful immigration rights march. According to reports, police dressed in riot gear fired 240 rounds of rubber and foam bullets as well as tear gas. Video shows officers clubbing protesters and journalist with batons and mothers on picnic blankets picking up babies and running. The images were surreal.

America was built by immigrants – a land where newcomers were provided with freedom from oppression and opportunity for prosperity. At one point, anyone could move to the United States. People crossed the Atlantic and then migrated west changing the lives of Native American Indians and the landscape. But with the increase in population, control was needed and through the years government has tried to fine tune immigration policy to answer concerns of the times. For example, according to U.S. immigration history, a law passed by Congress in 1921 encouraged immigration from western European countries such as Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia because natives of these lands seemed more likely to assimilate to American ideals. Meanwhile, the law discouraged immigration from eastern and southern Europe.

Certainly this debate has many issues to deal with: language, health care, education, culture in addition to the economy and security. Some say immigrants are a burden on the U.S. economy and argue that they take jobs away from U.S. citizens, drain social services and resist learning English and American culture. Others, however, believe that immigrants keep the nation strong, economically competitive and culturally rich. But with more and more different nationalities of people entering the United States, the ethnic composition is changing possibly making some fear for what they believe is America’s identity.

We forget that almost every American can trace their roots back to an immigrant. But how we view immigration is all relative – early history calls it progress while today some call it criminal. The reality is that today’s immigration concerns require real framework – a system in place that helps as the population increases and resources decrease.

Consistent with our country’s history, immigrants fill job gaps – taking low-skilled, low-paid jobs and often unwanted jobs – creating an underground economy. Comprehensive immigration reform must provide a way to encourage those working in the underground economy (which experts estimate at $970 billion) to come out of the shadows and ensure their labor contributes more fully to the U.S. economy. They can apply for visas that will either let them live as a guest-worker, a permanent resident or a potential citizen.

Immigration reform must strike the right balance between ensuring that American businesses have a strong, viable workforce to meet the demands of a growing 21st century economy while maintaining safety and security for its people. Allowing a hard working person that contributes to the community and the local economy to obtain legal employment status is not amnesty, it is sound economic sense.

Obtaining legal status is better than living here as an illegal immigrant. Legislators need to help remove the fear and replace it with a logical, organized system. It is also unrealistic and absurd to expect that we can send more than 12 million people home. There are also constitution limitations on government’s ability to distinguish citizenship. Will every individual with an accent, ethnic features, or dark skin tones be asked for documentation? I know of long-time naturalized citizens who are afraid and now carrying their proof.

I don’t think this country’s forefathers envisioned a society where people will have to prove their citizenships at every turn? This will just bring more divisiveness and emotion strife among communities and people.

This legislation will go through an amendment process before it receives widespread support. Call your Senators and voice your opinion. Congressional offices usually tally the number of calls they get on a vote, and Senators take that into account before a vote. If you do not know who or how to reach your senator call TOLL FREE 1-800-417-7666 (ENGLISH) and 1-800-882-2005 (Spanish) for assistance. Your voice counts – and this time it’s a phone call away.

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