COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM
The Congress elected in 2018 must enact legislation to resolve the plight of 11.2 million undocumented immigrants contributing to our communities and coffers, in a revolutionary rather than piecemeal manner. The edifice of this reform must stand on the same four principles upon which the uniquely broad immigration policy of the United States was built: Family Unity, Needed Skills, Humanitarianism and Diversity. A bill that I would author and sponsor would be based on these points.
Immediate legal status and a path to citizenship must be provided on humanitarian grounds to undocumented immigrants, some of whom have been laboring for decades on poverty wages to build and feed the nation, many of whom have US citizen children. Those whose protections under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were terminated by President Trump must be included, if not already legalized.
For years we turned a blind eye to the illegal status of these immigrants while taking advantage of their services. Fairness now requires that we provide them with the privileges of legal residence and citizenship on par with their US citizen family members. If we don’t, we leave them in legal limbo, let employers exploit a vulnerable workforce, and allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to terrorize their families by swooping down on them as they go about their daily lives.
The legalization process should be simple and efficient, and widely inclusive, applying to anyone who has been in the country for one year or more. Meeting certain requirements, the undocumented immigrants would first quickly obtain legal status, valid for life, which would allow them to drive with a license, work legally and travel home. If they so desire, after a specified number of years they would be eligible for a green card, then for citizenship. The number of years required at each step should be determined through assessment of current backlog and efforts to streamline the documentation process. Only violent crimes, or those that threaten national security, should bar eligibility.
The United States has needed both low-skill workers and the high-skilled ones, both the poor who come to assuage the fire in their bellies and the geniuses in the arts, sciences, technology, engineering, and math. In the current migratory global economy, a large percentage of low-skill workers unable to earn a living back home would rather work here for two or three years, then return home with enough money to open a small business and sustain their family.
We need a “guest” agricultural or non-agricultural worker visa program that would allow these workers to stay for a few years and return, or to renew their visas if they want to stay longer. Such a program would fulfill the demands of the US economy for low-skilled work, and also help boost the economies of the home countries of workers, who often send back a portion of their earnings. Illegal entries into the US would end. Guest workers would have the same rights as the US workers and be paid the same wages.
Moreover, the number of persons allowed in a fiscal year on the professional H-1B work visa should be increased substantially - from its current cap at 85,000. This will stop the flow of qualified professionals out of the US to places like Canada and Mexico.
Instead of spending billions on building a wall, we can better stem the tide of illegal immigration by funding a Marshall Plan for Latin America, and by changing our drug policies. Increasingly sophisticated technology has substantially reduced persons sneaking in from across the border. The new border-crossers are the millions fleeing Central America to escape the extreme violence of drug cartels who are openly seeking asylum protection at the border; a wall won’t stop them.
Our war on drugs is responsible in part for this new migration. It not only fails to stem the drug trade, but also keeps drugs illegal, which enriches the drug lords the war was originally supposed to prosecute. If we treat drug use as a health, rather than a criminal problem, we can undermine the illegal drug business and greatly reduce the desperation that is driving so many to risk illegal immigration. This would also reduce the prison problem, which would free up tax dollars.
And rather than building a wall, many more trained asylum officers and immigration judges should be hired to make asylum decisions quickly. Innocents should not languish in immigration detention centers while waiting for a hearing before the judge, nor should children be cruelly separated from their parents in an attempt to deter new arrivals at the border. Children who arrive at the border unaccompanied should be released to family members or friends, whose legal status should not disqualify them from such guardianship. We must continue to sustain and strengthen our historic mission of providing safe harbor to those confronting persecution at home.
Finally, since half of the documented are not border-crossers, but rather those arriving legally on visas and overstaying the time given to them by the terms of their visa, we need an exit control system to ensure that people leave. Under this system, a person’s passport would be stamped on departure, providing a record of those arrivees who left timely and aiding the apprehension and removal of those who remained in the country illegally.
Law enforcement should not agree to ICE requests (known as detainers) to hold for 48 hours any person who is otherwise releasable by posting bond to await court hearing (and has therefore not been proved guilty) or by completing sentence time. This amounts to unconstitutional re-arrest for either the same crime or for a new crime that the person couldn’t have committed while in jail. The only exception to this policy would be where persons commit crimes pre-listed as extremely violent, dangerous to the community, or threats to national security and ICE obtains a judicial warrant for the added detention.
In addition, all persons arrested should be entitled to the four “Miranda” rights, which include being informed before interrogation that they have a right to remain silent. The United States constitution applies to all persons not just to all documented persons. Arrests by local law enforcement should not be an automatic pipeline to detention and removal for the undocumented. Current policies foster fear and distrust of police and sheriff’s departments, and a reluctance in the undocumented community to report crimes.
We must increase our immigration quotas to reduce the long waiting times that are keeping families separated. If we genuinely respect family values, we must encourage family reunification. And we must continue to allow eligible persons to petition for their spouses, unmarried and married children, parents, and siblings - a “chain” migration including these relatives is justified: some need more than a nuclear family to be happy and productive.
We need to remove the fear of joblessness and wage depression that stokes anti-immigrant feeling here and abroad. This insecurity has led to the rise of demagogues and ideologues, and has fueled a burgeoning and violent strain of white supremacy. We can overcome this hatred not through empty words, but by providing guaranteed jobs at a fair wage with collective bargaining and worker participation on corporate boards, reforms from which we all can benefit.
We must retain the Diversity Visa Lottery because this brilliant program has allowed persons from countries with past low rates of immigration like those in Africa to the US and therefore no available family or employment means to enter, to add their rich cultural ingredients and flavors to the splendid melting pot of America. These persons, and their spouses and minor children who accompany them, pose no security threats because they are rigorously vetted before entering.
These ideas are the foundation of my legislative plan, which will establish America once more as a shining beacon of hope to the rest of the world, while ensuring its safety and security in the years to come.