A Needed Return to Immigration Reform
Michael J. Wildes
Finally, in the
midst of so many other ambitious agenda items, Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano last week reasserted the administration's commitment
to immigration reform, tentatively scheduled for early 2010. It's about
The United States is, unbelievably enough, processing millions of immigration
cases using a dinosaur system last updated when "E.T." topped box office
charts and "Cheers" was America's favorite TV show.
So what has taken immigration reform so long?
The last attempt at reform, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act introduced
in 2007, was attacked by the left and the right, and ultimately killed
in the Senate despite numerous amendments made in an attempt to save it.
The task won't be any easier next year, and it will mean overcoming a
lot of misconceptions.
For example, the tough economy has made the job market extraordinarily
competitive and spread the mistaken belief that immigrants steal American
jobs. But a study published just this month by the National
Bureau of Economic Research found "no evidence that immigrants crowded
out employment and hours worked by natives." The authors note that "At
the same time, we found robust evidence that [immigrants] increased total
A traditional barrier to immigration reform has been the labor unions
, whose primary interests historically have been to protect the American
worker. Nevertheless, as Napolitano said, labor leaders have made it clear
that unions cannot compete when a large part of the workforce is operating
illegally and in a shadow economy.
And fixing immigration can help our economy. As Napolitano noted in her
speech Nov. 13, requiring undocumented immigrants to register to earn
legal status will actually strengthen our economy, as an estimated 12
million of these immigrants become full-paying taxpayers. And, once registered,
they may be called upon to pay back taxes and penalties.
Likewise, American universities attract and educate the finest young talent
across the world, only to send them back home when they would rather stay
in the U.S. to establish businesses and other ventures. Why not reap the
benefits of the education we provide? Leaders in agriculture, service
industries and other fields almost universally report that business growth
is being hindered by outdated visa quotas.
Despite the discourse of talking heads that focus on immigrants as a drain
on society, American immigration in the 21st century is a story of opportunities
wasted and development squandered.
Perhaps most important when it comes to any discussion of immigration
reform is the moral imperative to ensure the rights of undocumented workers
as human beings, many of whom have worked hard and lived as our friends
and neighbors for years. Ours is a nation of immigrants, and many of our
parents, grandparents and great-grandparents knew the challenges of integrating
into a society hostile to newcomers. Immigration reform will provide advocacy
and help for a group of people whose lack of rights has made them easy
targets for fraud and exploitation.
It is no secret that our immigration system is broken; both sides of this
debate agree on that. For reasons of national security, domestic growth
and international expansion, and to uphold the principles upon which this
country was built, it is high time that we provide a viable channel of
legal immigration worthy of the 21st century.
Michael J. Wildes is an immigration
attorney and mayor of Englewood, N.J.
for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes For Mayor, Amy Wildes, Treasurer
Allison Court, Englewood, NJ 07631