Getting immigration reform right requires a clear understanding of the facts

By Robert W. Glover, University of Maine

With a national debate over immigration policy looming, I agree wholeheartedly with recent Op-Ed contributor Jonette Christian from Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy that we need to “get it right.” As a result, I find the way that the current immigration reform bill is presented in her piece somewhat disconcerting. Presumably, “getting it right” presupposes at least some attention to the actual facts of the legislation. Thus, let me present a thorough, but not exhaustive, list of some of the inaccuracies contained within Christian’s piece.

“The centerpiece of this bill is blanket amnesty, not just for illegal immigrants but also for their employers.”

This seems to me a curious definition of “amnesty.” Those migrants put on a path to citizenship would pay fines and any back taxes owed, be subject to background checks, and then be put on a thirteen-year pathway to citizenship which would require steady employment, learning English, and demonstrated proof of integration into American society. In addition, the legislation would make employer participation in the federal E-Verify system mandatory, to ensure that employees are eligible to work legally in the US.

“Contrary to the claims of its supporters that border security comes first, the gang’s amnesty starts the legalization process immediately after the Department of Homeland Security submits a plan for securing the U.S.-Mexico border… And yet the gang’s supporters defeated every amendment so far that sought enforcement first…”

This is simply incorrect. Currently, none of the legalization provisions would take effect until demonstrated evidence of 90% effectiveness at apprehending illegal immigrants. The bill appropriates $3 billion to border security in order to meet this goal, with an additional $2 billion available to governors of Southwestern states if the objective is not met within 5 years. I am not entirely clear what amendments are being referenced as what Christian wants is already contained within the substance of the bill.

“Not all 11 million illegal immigrants are ‘hardworking people’ with strong family values’ as claimed. Illegal immigration has also given us the MS-13, one the most violent gangs in America, in addition to human trafficking, drug violence and identity fraud.”

This statement is pure fear-mongering. The criminality which Christian cites is no way widespread within immigrant communities and immigration enforcement under the Obama administration has zeroed in on those with past criminal histories. This is the core focus of the “Secure Communities” initiative at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a program that as of 2011 had removed more than 142,000 individuals deemed violent or dangerous from the United States. This is also the impetus behind background checks that would be a prerequisite to a pathway to citizenship. Incidentally, the article which Christian cites goes on to mention these very measures to confront organized criminal activity.

“According to the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress, which supports the amnesty plan, this bill will generate 32.5 million green cards in the first decade alone, which includes the 11 million already here…Each of the 32.5 million will also be entitled to sponsor any number of extended family members, which means that a whole new population will expect American citizenship in the future.”

This statement is perhaps the most misleading of all. The 32.5 million green cards cited would be granted, by and large, to non-permanent immigrants. The notion that we would be growing the population at some alarming rate presupposes that these individuals would be moving here to become permanent residents. In actuality, the vast majority of these individuals would be temporary workers, students, entrepreneurs admitted for only a short stay.

Gaining access to citizenship and permanent membership should not be confused with temporary residency, as the two are very different. The former is subject to significant restrictions and much harder to attain. No intelligent observer would want to conflate a conditional two or three-month residency with permanent citizenship in the United States.

If we are to “get it right” and avoid the gaps and loopholes which have characterized previous attempts at immigration reform, that presupposes having an honest discussion about the substance of the current legislation. Unfortunately, I fear that Christian’s article is more interested in promoting a partisan political agenda than an earnest consideration of the current immigration reform package.

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