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Talking Points: Reforming Immigration

Between 1990 and 2005, the number of undocumented immigrants doubled to 12 million while the size of the U.S. Border Patrol tripled in the same period.

“I am optimistic we can pass a comprehensive immigration bill and get this problem solved for the American people this year,” President Bush said last week, putting “pressure on senators as they prepare to hold a vote on the issue this week.” The need for comprehensive immigration reform is greater than ever, as our current system is broken. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of undocumented immigrants doubled to 12 million while the size of the U.S. Border Patrol tripled in the same period. To address this growing number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., comprehensive immigration reform gained momentum in Congress last year but ultimately was stonewalled by the right wing. “To save what could be his last hope for a major second-term domestic achievement,”…Bush is continuing to call for comprehensive reform this year, but his shift to more restrictive measures on immigration is stalling prospects of a fair reform package passing in Congress. The ultimate test of effective reform is whether there will be reasonable rules and sufficient visas to reflect the needs of our economy and our families. The immigration system cannot be fixed without sufficient visas and a workable and fair system that increases the incentive to come to the US legally. A punitive piece of legislation that does not address the need of more family and work visas will not work and will defeat the purpose of reform.

Only realistic reform will achieve true change and a workable system that addresses both family and work needs…

  • Comprehensive immigration reform must work to keep families together. “The Bush administration has proposed managing the future flow of legal immigration by stressing job skills and education over family ties,” a departure from the current system where “more than 60 percent of all legal immigrants enter under family preferences.” “Our immigration policy has long respected the stability that family ties bring. Relatives help set up family businesses; they pitch in to pay for children’s education….Good immigration policy doesn’t simply fill jobs; it reunites families as well.” But under the White House’s plan, “legal immigrants would lose the right to petition to bring adult children and siblings to the U.S….The proposal would limit or end preferences for people who had family members living legally in the U.S., and award many more visas based on employability criteria, such as education and skills.” Bush’s plan would also require undocumented immigrants to pay thousands in fines for a three-year work visa, and these visa holders “also wouldn’t be able to bring family members to the U.S.”
  • Real progress on immigration reform has been blocked by the right wing. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) agreed last week to wait until Wednesday to vote on whether to proceed with debate on immigration legislation. Reid will “bring last year’s broad overhaul of immigration laws back to the floor of the Senate,” using it as “the instrument to build new [legislation].” But Senate conservatives “have threatened to block that motion” requesting even more time to reach an agreement. Despite it passing with overwhelming support last year, conservatives claim last year’s comprehensive reform legislation “is not strict enough,” reflecting their desire to take a “tougher stand” on immigration. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, a foe of comprehensive reform in the past, is now the leading negotiator for Senate Republicans, and is driving a hard bargain.” Subsequently, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said this year’s conservative proposal was “a huge step backwards,” citing concerns with the “workability and fairness” of the plan.

  • Americans are ready to solve this crisis. “The American people have waited long enough for immigration reform. The time is right, and the result is up to us,” said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).  The attempts of the White House to focus on more restrictive measures, such as beefing up border security and breaking apart families, are untenable. Instead, “[w]e need a comprehensive approach to immigration that will more intelligently provide the skilled and unskilled labor that our country needs through legal means, enable those living and working within the United States to be better integrated into society, and allow the Department of Homeland Security to focus its resources on actual security threats at America’s borders and other ports of entry,” states Center for American Progress fellow Dan Restrepo. Such a reform package is supported by the vast majority of Americans. Seventy-six percent of Americans want a comprehensive reform package and 59 percent believe undocumented immigrants who have been in America for several years should gain legal working status and the possibility of citizenship in the future.