This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register’s print edition on March 17th, 2013. The Register’s online version can be found here: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20130417/OPINION01/304170042/0/BIZ01/?odyssey=nav|head
We’ve heard a lot about immigration reform lately. It’s been in the news, and it’s being discussed in Congress. At Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, we hear heart-wrenching stories every week from people trapped in a broken system.
Take Maria Hernandez. She had been waiting for months, not able to travel outside the United States because she was getting her immigration papers in order. One night last November, she got a call from family in Mexico: Her mother had just died. Maria’s world came crashing down because she could not go to Mexico to say her final goodbye to the person she loved most in this world.
Maria and 11 million other undocumented immigrants are caught up in a system that tears apart families, communities and lives.
Chances are, you know someone like Maria. She could be the mother of your child’s best friend, the coach of your daughter’s soccer team or the person who cleans your office late at night. She could be the person who checks you in at your favorite hotel, a caretaker at your child’s day care or the volunteer you see at church or school.
People like Maria are our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. They are an essential part of our communities and lives.
Millions of undocumented immigrants have lived and worked in the United States for decades. They have jobs, lives, families, friends and communities they call home.
Our communities desperately need fair immigration reform because — whether we admit it or not — we’re all in this together.
But the main proposal that will be debated soon in Congress — the one from the bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the Senate, the one that’s getting the most media attention — doesn’t do nearly enough to address the problems we are all facing. It would disqualify millions of hopeful Americans.
Half of our undocumented neighbors would have to sacrifice almost one-third of their annual income to afford the proposed penalty that could total over $10,000.
Four million friends could be excluded from citizenship by an overly restrictive English proficiency requirement that targets the young, elderly and mentally disabled.
One million community members — mostly women who take care of families, homes and work informally — could be excluded by unrealistic proof-of-work requirements. And many more, possibly millions, could be disqualified for minor traffic violations, or for working without documents to feed their families.
For everyone’s sake, we are asking Congress and President Obama to support an immigration reform proposal based on these principles:
• Focus on inclusion, not exclusion: We should provide pathways to citizenship within a reasonable amount of time, not a decade. And citizenship should not be limited to a very small group of specialized workers, or people with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Comprehensive immigration reform should also maintain protections and pathways for future immigrants to the U.S.
• Border security can’t trump legalization: We can’t wait until “borders are secure” to begin providing pathways to citizenship. We already have a lot of money and resources invested in border security.
• End deportations and harsh enforcement: $18 billion was spent on immigration enforcement last year — more than all other major federal law enforcement agencies combined. We need to put an end to deportations and harsh enforcement. ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement) raids are inhumane, destroy communities and spread fear.
• Protect labor and civil rights: We need stronger protections for immigrant workers against exploitation and abuse. Unscrupulous employers underpay and exploit cheap immigrant labor, and some use the threat of deportation to keep immigrant workers quiet.
We need to act now. Let’s make fair immigration reform a reality for ourselves and all the Marias we know.