Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Immigration Reform Is Good for America

For America’s Families:
The family is the basic unit of our society, and immigrants who have the support of strong families are more likely to contribute to society, pay taxes, and start businesses that create jobs. But our broken immigration system divides families and keeps loved ones apart for years and even decades, which discourages them from following the rules and working within the system.

It doesn’t make sense to spend billions of dollars rounding people up, breaking up families, shutting down businesses, and deporting people who are working, learning English, and putting down roots here. For immigrants who don’t have legal status, we should require them to come out of the shadows and register, pay taxes, and start working toward becoming Americans, while keeping their families together.

For America’s Workers:
Reforming immigration will help protect all workers from exploitation and unfair competition. Currently, millions of workers — one in twenty in the U.S. workforce — are vulnerable to employers who seek unfair advantage over their competitors by not paying workers minimum wage or by ignoring labor rights protected by law. Bringing undocumented workers into the system will allow them to stand up for their rights and to unionize. When they are on equal footing with other workers, unscrupulous employers will not easily be able to pit one group of workers against another, driving down wages for all Americans.

America should not settle for a downwardly spiraling competition for lower wage jobs. America needs more jobs, more rights for workers, and better wages, not more laws to keep workers out or keep workers down.

Reforming immigration is an important part of fixing the ailing economy. The federal government has an obligation to reform immigration for all American workers.

For America’s Economy:
Today, almost every American company needs smart planning, to navigate through hard times and be ready for growth when the economy recovers. Unfortunately, for too many American businesses, the unreliable and obsolete immigration system makes planning for the future more difficult.

Industries like agriculture that require a large workforce ready, willing, and able to work long and physically demanding days have been unable to plan their business strategies around a stable workforce. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, such sectors have relied on immigrant workers to do those jobs. The hospitality, restaurant, business services, and manufacturing sectors face similar problems.

One of the challenges American businesses face today is the aging American workforce, the rapid retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation. To maintain a balanced and a stable workforce, American businesses must find younger workers, especially in manual labor jobs. With more and more US citizen youth earning high school and college degrees, the trend is making the prospects of adequately filling jobs in certain sectors extremely difficult, even in this tough economy.

For America’s Security:
The immigration system we have today makes little sense in terms of America’s security. With few legal options to come in through the system, many seek ways to go around it. The broken system has spawned a thriving market for smugglers and has generated chaos on the border. A seemingly random enforcement regime targets ordinary immigrant workers and families, diverting resources away from protecting against genuine threats. Millions of immigrants are unknown to the government. 

Unscrupulous employers have little fear of punishment for recruiting and exploiting undocumented workers and undermining their honest competitors.

Immigration reform will allow more immigrants to come with a visa, not with a smuggler. It will require undocumented immigrants to get right with the law, register with the government, and go through government background security checks. This screening process will separate ordinary immigrants who have come seeking opportunities to better their lives from those who may be exploiting opportunities a broken system provides to those who may be coming to do us harm.

Enforcement resources can then be trained on employers who flaunt labor laws and exploit undocumented immigrants, on smugglers who traffic in drugs and guns who are creating chaos on the border, and on violent individuals inside the country who may pose a threat to public safety.
By getting ordinary immigrants in line for citizenship and prioritizing enforcement actions to target genuine threats, immigration reform will be good for America’s security.

The Catholic Church's concern for the welfare of migrants stems from its belief that immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue because it impacts the basic human rights and dignity of the human person. The Church believes this dignity is undermined by this program's alleged channeling of immigrants into the criminal justice system through racial profiling and pre-textual arrests for the purpose of vetting them for their immigration status. Because Secure Communities is operated at the point of arrest, rather than post-conviction, it casts a wide net over virtually any immigrant who has come into contact with the criminal justice system.

In other parts of the country where Secure Communities is being operated, some law enforcement officers have denounced the program because it creates a lack of trust between immigrant communities and local police, affecting their ability to investigate crime, assist crime victims and ensure the safety of those communities.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is supportive of the recommendations of the Task Force for Secure Communities, which cited a number of recommendations for improving the program, including improving transparency and strengthening accountability by preventing and providing remedies for civil rights violations. The Bishops also urge that an individual not be detained until he/she has been convicted of a crime that poses a threat to public safety of immigrant communities and families, rather than at the time of arrest.

The Church acknowledges the right of governments to control and protect its borders however the human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Programs like Secure Communities as well as overly-aggressive laws such as those passed in states like Alabama and Arizona underscore the need for comprehensive and just immigration reform. Enforcement-only immigration policies will not humanely or effectively fix our nation's broken immigration system. It is time for comprehensive and just immigration reform that provides meaningful and adequate legal avenues for migration, compatible with both our future labor needs and our ongoing prioritization of family unity, and includes the targeted, proportional, and human enforcement of immigration laws.

Mitchell T. Rozanski, Baltimore
The writer is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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