Congress Should Pass Immigration Reform Now

As of last week, it looks like the House will shoot down the sweeping immigration reform bill passed by the Senate with a 68–23 margin. House Majority Speaker John Boehner indicated that he won’t even allow the bill to be voted on in the House.

That’s a shame because the measure — 1,100 pages long and months in the making — would be a decisive step in ending the crisis of illegal immigrants, and it’s puzzling to understand what more the House Republicans could want other than what’s in the bill.

Opponents of immigration reform have always insisted that they want more secure borders. And the bill provides for that — amply. Under the provisions of the bill, $3 billion would go to pay for hiring another 3,500 border patrol agents, radar systems, electronic surveillance systems and unmanned drones. Another $1.5 billion would be allocated for extending the fence along the nation’s 2,000-mile southwest border. In addition, the bill authorizes the National Guard to assist border patrols in guarding the border. Such measures will go far in sealing the border from being the sieve it has been for those entering illegally.

Immigration reform foes have also always maintained that it’s not fair for illegal immigrants to be granted a blanket amnesty, that those who broke the law should not be rewarded, that the applicants for legal entry into the country should not be punished for adhering to the law.

Those would be valid objections if the Senate was granting a blanket amnesty, but the bill is clearly not providing that at all. The road to amnesty as set out in the bill would not equate those who broke the law to enter the country with those who entered legally.

In fact, the bill is nowhere a free lunch for those who are here illegally. All those applying for citizenship will have to pay a fine as well as back taxes for the years they worked off the books. Criminals need not apply. Applicants will have to pass a background check and have to have a clean criminal record. To ensure that criminals are locked out of the system in the future, employers will have to conduct a background check.

These proposals are not rewarding criminals, but providing a valid pathway to whose only crime was to try to secure a better future for themselves and their families and want to be recognized legally as contributing members of society.

Neither are illegal immigrants going ahead in the line of those who have entered the system legally and are patiently waiting for green cards. The time frame outlined in the bill for obtaining legal status will be, at a minimum, 10 years for a green card, 13 for citizenship. True, children would have a faster track towards citizenship, but why punish them when they are here through no fault of their own?

Exactly what alternatives do opponents of the bill propose to fix our dysfunctional immigration system? At this point there are 11 million illegal immigrants who have to live in the shadows, who can’t be paid legally, who can’t pay taxes, who are vulnerable to all sorts of depredations since they are not protected by the law. Do those against the bill believe that it will be possible and ethical to deport those 11 million, many of whom have lived here for decades?

Even without a moral dilemma, deporting illegal immigrants would adversely impact the economy. Let’s face it. They take jobs for low wages that Americans don’t want to do: They pluck feathers in poultry plants, wash pots in restaurants, sheetrock walls, mow lawns, pick produce. Without their willingness to work long hours for low wages, consumer costs for the services they provide would dramatically increase. They aren’t living the American dream, but they are a pivotal reason why many of us pay relatively cheap prices for food, construction, hospitality.

States that have cracked down on illegal immigrants have seen their economies suffer. A 2012 University of Alabama study calculated that Alabama’s tough anti-immigration laws have cost the state $10.8 billion. An estimated 80,000 immigrants have vacated jobs, fleeing before they can be detained under the law. The state has lost hundreds of millions in lost sales-tax revenue since the law was enacted. Another study by the Center for American Progress estimated the economic damage to Arizona’s hospitality industry from the state immigration crackdown at $141 million.

The Senate’s bill is a long-awaited, sensible overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system. The knee-jerk opposition to it by the speaker and other members of Congress smacks of intolerance and of a nativist sentiment that has no place in a nation of immigrants. Those so bitterly opposed to the bill, so dead set against allowing others the opportunity to be free, should ask themselves this: Where did their grandparents or ancestors come from?