We need to fix our broken immigration system and provide undocumented Americans with the path to citizenship that politicians have promised them for decades.
Introduction By Chardo Richardson
After endless struggles and setbacks, we as Americans have managed to unite hundreds of millions of people under a shared national identity. This should be a source of deep pride, but we must never forget that the purpose of a nation is to build unity and deconstruct division. We must always remember that the founding of a nation isn’t a destination, but a stepping stone to deeper human unity. Towards that end, we must build deeper connections with other nations and peoples. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “No document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
Donald Trump claims that “a nation without borders is not a nation.” He and other immigration restrictionists demand that we wall ourselves off, both literally and metaphorically, from the rest of humanity. They’ll tell us to view our fellow people as dangerous and inferior because they happen to have been born on the “wrong” side of an imaginary line. To paraphrase George W. Bush, they’ll tell us to judge ourselves by our best intentions and others by their worst examples.
Xenophobic forces seek to brutalize the most vulnerable among us. Innocent people fleeing the horrors of war and violence are coldly turned away, left to fend for themselves. Tired, poor, huddled masses, just looking for an opportunity, are shut out of our hearts and minds. Thousands of people are allowed to die as they desperately cross inhospitable rivers and deserts in search of a better life. Families, parents and children, are torn apart and forever divided by a militarized border. Tens of millions of people are forced into the shadows to live as second class citizens, vulnerable to endless forms of exploitation. These are crimes against humanity and they must end, the conscience of the nation demands it.
When a “Now Hiring” sign hangs behind our militarized border in a society that makes human beings illegal, it creates a pool of exploited workers forced to labor for pennies in subhuman conditions, and this drives down the economic conditions of every worker.
Politicians who blame immigrants for the economic hardships of the poor and middle class are the same politicians actively working to degrade the poor and middle class. They’re against a living wage, they’re against universal healthcare, they’re against education for all, but they’re for dismantling Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and the rest of our social safety net. All in the name of giving tax cuts to the ultra rich.
Perhaps the biggest harm is the absence of the immigrants themselves. Immigrants are some of the most courageous and industrious people humanity has to offer and we can only benefit from their presence. Immigrants are part of the American family and deserve to be celebrated and welcomed.
Pathways to Citizenship: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) into law. While far from perfect, IRCA allowed almost 3 million undocumented Americans to gain legal status. Now, approximately 11 million undocumented Americans live in the United States. While every session of Congress since the first year of George W. Bush’s presidency has attempted to find a legislative solution to this increasingly urgent problem, there have been no successes. It is time to follow the legacy of President Reagan and give undocumented Americans a pathway to citizenship. As with President Reagan’s Act, we should allow undocumented Americans to apply for citizenship if they entered the United States four years or more prior to the passage of the Act. Working class undocumented Americans should be exempt from any fees and provided free immigrant attorney consultation, which could otherwise cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This new pathway will allow undocumented Americans to legally enter the workforce and continue to contribute to our society, as they already have without legal status, without fear of exploitation and deportation.
One of the greatest flaws of IRCA was that it was meant to solve the issues with the immigration system in one fell swoop. This, of course, is simply impossible. There is no one-and-done fix for any problem. Therefore, in the years following the passage of our new comprehensive immigration bill, the same rules should apply: Undocumented Americans can become citizens if they have lived in the United States for four years or more.
End Taxation Without Representation: Undocumented Americans currently pay $17.6 billion in taxes each year. Yet, in all but a few cities, they have no right to vote, and no undocumented American in the United States is able to vote in federal or statewide elections. This is taxation without representation, something our nation was founded in opposition to. Between 1776 and 1926, undocumented Americans could vote in up to 40 states, but their suffrage was stolen from them in the anti-immigrant fervor of the early 20th century. All Americans should be encouraged to participate in our democracy and contribute to our society, regardless of documentation. Therefore, undocumented Americans who pay their taxes should be able to vote in local, state, and federal elections.
Helping Immigrants Integrate: Anti-immigrant proponents claim that undocumented immigrants fail to integrate into society. While this is flat-out untrue, we should nonetheless ease the process of joining and contributing to American society by providing undocumented Americans quality education, job training, and other settlement services.
Language: Since many undocumented Americans do not have access to basic education, they are locked out of the system by no fault of their own. Free language courses should be provided.
History: The same problem arises as with language. Free courses should be provided.
Job training: Undocumented Americans, along with working-class citizens, should be offered free job training programs so that they can successfully join the workforce.
Establish Legal Immigration Centers Around the World: It’s time for us to finally be proactive about our immigration policy, not reactive. We should establish American immigration centers around the world to recruit working people from around the world to join the American family.
Make U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) an Independent Federal Executive Department: The U.S. Department of Citizenship, Refugees, and Immigration Services: One of the main reasons our immigration system is such a mess is the disunity of federal departmental organization. For seven decades, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service managed immigration as an agency of the Department of Justice. But in 2003, the department was dissolved and its responsibilities were mostly transferred to various Department of Homeland Security agencies. The Government Accountability Office found that only 9% of DHS acquisitions are on track, a disturbing figure given the importance of the department’s work. To ensure that disorganized bureaucracy no longer interferes with essential federal immigration efforts, we need to centralize federal immigration efforts by establishing a department focusing on Citizenship, Refugees, and Immigration Services.
Abolish ICE: Unnecessarily founded in 2003 on anti-immigrant sentiments, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the federal government’s deportation machine. A brutal agency meant to strike fear into the hearts of undocumented Americans, ICE destroys the lives of millions of hardworking undocumented Americans and tears apart countless families. While keeping our country safe is important, ICE does little more than increase dangerous militarization and target vulnerable undocumented Americans who are simply looking to make a living for themselves and their families. While ICE has some programs that are potentially admirable in theory, such as investigations into human rights violations, these programs are underfunded, understaffed, and abused. Ironically, ICE frequently violates the rights of undocumented Americans, torturing them and even using them as slave labor. Yet we have seen no repercussions from Congress, with the establishment on both sides of the aisle tossing billions at the agency with no interest in holding it accountable.
Guarantee fiscal responsibility in border security spending: Billions of your hard-earned dollars should not be wasted on needless violence against undocumented Americans, especially when we lack basic policies addressing universal healthcare and infrastructure investment.
Guarantee border safety: According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), over 6,000 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between 2000 and 2014. And that’s only counting the migrants discovered by CBP agents, thus not accounting for migrants discovered by other law enforcement agencies. The problem is only getting worse. The United Nations found that the number of reported migrant deaths at the U.S.-Mexico border jumped 17% from 2016 to 2017. It’s clear that change is needed to prevent any more senseless violence and death. Therefore, we will:
Change the mission of CBP to creating and managing safe entryways into the United States.
Demilitarize the border. We must bring an end to the fiscally irresponsible, inhumane, and ineffective U.S.-Mexico border “enforcement” policies that have only become increasingly violent without any oversight or transparency. Border Patrol has killed not only migrants but also border residents, yet Congress has done nothing to hold the agency accountable.
End border privatization. Military contractors should have no place in our immigration policy. Their greed has only brought increased militarization and reckless spending. We must end the involvement of private corporations in our immigration policy to ensure that the needs of the people, not just the wealthy, are being met.
Reform and make public CBP guidelines to ensure an end to violence and abuse by officers, and create a transparent system that all Americans can trust to keep them safe. This entails the common-sense reforms of:
a. Banning searches without clearly defined and reasonable suspicion.
b. Banning profiling based on race, gender identity, or any other identity.
c. Returning personal belongings confiscated by CBP officials to their original owners.
d. Retraining CBP agents to ensure that they understand and respect the rights of all people and do not enact any human rights violations.
e. Firing any CBP agents with a history of abusive behavior and establishing a culture of accountability to prevent further abuse.
f. Teaching agents de-escalation techniques and cultural awareness.
g. Mandating dashcams to ensure accountability with penalties for not using them.
h. Bringing in translators to make the process of crossing the border as safe as possible.
No Human is Illegal: As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel famously said: “No human is illegal.” Currently, the language of our immigration discourse demeans and dehumanizes undocumented immigrants by characterizing them as “illegal aliens.” A simple fix to recognize the humanity of all Americans, regardless of documentation status, is to change the legal terminology of “illegal aliens” to “undocumented immigrants.”
The broken promises and inaction of establishment politicians in Washington has been devastating immigrant families for decades. We cannot accept that as the norm. It’s time for a Brand New Congress that will finally embrace and protect all Americans, documented or not.