Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Enforcement should not drive immigration reform

by Christian Ramirez
04.08.10 - 07:49 pm


Reforming our obsolete immigration system is a human rights issue that can no longer wait. Our nation needs a clear and workable path toward legal residency for the millions of undocumented workers and families living in this country.

Some proposals, such as the immigration-reform blueprint that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham are spearheading, will only generate the needed path after creating a more militarized southern border. Border communities have for generations demanded accountability and respect for their quality of life, not more of the same failed policies.

Adding more patrols, or high-tech surveillance systems, to “secure the borders” does not make us more secure. The tragic deaths of at least 6,000 migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border since the mid 1990s are a stark reminder that border control policies have only perpetuated suffering. Migrants are 17 times more likely to die today while crossing the border than they were in 1998.

We hear from lawmakers that trumpeting border security is necessary to make immigration reform possible. But where is the clear proof that the multimillion-dollar wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has curbed migration? Economists say the recession of the past two years has had more of an impact.

Stepping up ineffective border patrols, filling more detention jails across the country, and more wholesale deportations would only aggravate the climate of fear and uncertainty under which millions of families live. In fact, the Obama administration deported more undocumented migrants in its first year in office than in George W. Bush’s last year in the White House, based on the Department of Homeland Security’s own reports.

No wonder, then, that over 100,000 immigrant rights supporters converged on the streets of Washington, DC, on March 21st to protest any immigration reform that would expand the current ineffective and overzealous enforcement system.

Instead, they and millions of others are calling for an end to policies that split families apart and introduce policies that provide safe and swift paths to legalization. I believe that the seven core principles that the American Friends Service Committee proposed in A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy will help achieve that goal quickly, fairly and humanely. The seven principles state:

1. Create justice with humane economic policies. International economic policies, including trade agreements, need to be consistent with human rights, trade justice, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

2. Protect the labor rights of ALL workers. All workers are entitled to humane policies that protect their labor and employment rights.

3. Develop a clear path to permanent residence. Inclusive measures must be enacted that lead to permanent residence for undocumented immigrants, multi-status families, refugees and asylum seekers.

4. Respect the civil and human rights of immigrants. Immigrants, regardless of status, deserve the same civil and human rights as all U.S. residents.

5. Demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S.-Mexico border region must be demilitarized and the quality of life of border communities needs to be protected.

6. Make family reunification a top priority. Recognize the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects both heterosexual and same-sex relationships.

7. Ensure that immigrants and refugees have access to services. Public programs and services should not exclude immigrants or refugees.

As a nation, we should reject appeals to tie the future of millions of families to a broken, unjust system of enforcement as proposed by Sens. Schumer and Graham. Instead we should respect the human rights and dignity of immigrants through humane and fair immigration policies.

Christian Ramirez is the national coordinator of human migration and mobility for the American Friends Service Committee.
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