Editor’s note: This post is part of a series on immigration leading up to our Twitter Talk on February 13 at 9pm EST with Emmy-winning journalist Jorge Ramos. To take part in the conversation, follow #CountryForAll on Twitter.
It looks like meaningful immigration reform is finally here. A bipartisan group of senators have agreed on a proposed bill to give legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants, but only after the border has been secured and plans implemented to keep better control of incoming and outgoing immigrants.
For the last few years, everyone has been going on about immigration. Immigration reform has become a political catchphrase, and it was tossed about freely during the election. Both Obama and Romney wanted the Latino vote, so they talked a lot about the importance of immigration reform. Romney touted his Mexican heritage and Obama appealed to the pathos of Latino voters, promising compassionate reform. Yet the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president. He has spent more money securing the border with Mexico, and his temporary amnesty for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children—whom The Pew Hispanic Center estimates number around 1.4 million, has had low enrollment because participants would be admitting they are in the country illegally, without getting any guarantee that they will become permanent residents or citizens.
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The last time we had any significant overhaul of immigration was in 1986, when the U.S. government passed a bill introduced by Democrat Romano Mazzoli and Republican Alan Simpson: the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which said any person who had entered the U.S illegally before 1982 and had resided in the U.S. continuously would be given an amnesty. About 2.6 million people took advantage of the amnesty. But many immigrants who were eligible could not apply since they did not have proof that they had been in the country since 1982. Other immigrants simply paid for counterfeit papers.
As the Obama administration gets ready to unveil its new immigration reform program, it is faced with the task of creating a plan that has to pass a divided Congress, appease Latino voters who helped put Obama back in the White House, as well make sense to the millions of illegal immigrants in the country. But this new plan by a bipartisan group of senators appears close to Obama’s 2011 immigration reform plan.
The plan set forth by the senators does a lot to legalize undocumented immigrants and set them on the path to citizenship, but it also tightens border restrictions, and this might be a problem with Obama. One thing any legislation should have is tighter restrictions and penalties on employers who hire undocumented workers. For too long, businesses have gone unpunished for hiring illegal immigrants. Too many business are profiting from the willingness of these immigrants to work in dismal conditions for awful wages, and by taking advantage of their fear of being deported. This is particularly true in the agriculture, meat processing and construction sectors.
The illegal immigration problem is not going to go away whether an amnesty passes or not, because America is still a beacon of hope and prosperity for the impoverished in other countries. Whatever legislation is ultimately passed needs to be not only comprehensive, but needs to take into account the future of the children of undocumented immigrants who are in this country now, and those who will keep coming, seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families.