Michael Stafford: It’s time for comprehensive immigration reform
In January, 2010, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”) launched a campaign in support of comprehensive immigration reform urging “Congress to take up as its next priority comprehensive immigration reform that would reunite families, regularize the status of an estimated 12 million people in this country illegally and restore due process protections for immigrants.” The effort, although ultimately unsuccessful, was joined by leaders of other faith communities.
The USCCB’s call to action on this issue ought to be renewed. Simply put, comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to legality (“earned legalization”) for some of our nation’s millions of illegal immigrants is long overdue. It is also my hope that the effort to reform our nation’s immigration laws will enjoy bipartisan support that transcends the bitter divisions so prevalent in politics today.
America’s immigration laws should serve our national interest while, at the same time, respecting the inherent human dignity of immigrants. These two principles complement one another. Our current, antiquated system does neither well. A pathway to legal status for some of our unauthorized immigrants must be a piece of any comprehensive immigration reform. At the same time, our federal government has a duty to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws. An “earned legalization” program would not subvert these critical goals; on the contrary, it would further them.
It is critical to distinguish “earned legalization” from an “amnesty.” Although specific proposals vary in some details, they typically require the payment of a fine, background checks, and the attainment some level of English language proficiency. Thus, “earned legalization” is not an amnesty; there is nothing automatic about it. Individuals participating in an earned legalization program will have to wait in line like any other immigrant. Meanwhile, they’ll be asked to continue contributing to our society by paying taxes, starting businesses and being productive members within their communities.
As Senator John McCain noted in remarks concerning efforts to reform our immigration system in 2007, comprehensive reform that includes an “earned legalization” program is not a reward to law-breakers, but rather: “recognizes the problems inherent in the current system and provides a logical and effective means to address these problems… We have a national interest in identifying [unauthorized immigrants], incentivizing them to come forward out of the shadows, go through security background checks, pay back taxes, pay penalties for breaking the law, learn to speak English, and regularize their status. Anyone who thinks this goal can be achieved without providing an eventual path to a permanent legal status is not serious about solving this problem.”2
To be continued…..