There are so many flaws in the U.S. immigration system that could be readily fixed by Congress that it’s a shame so much of the election season was focused on illegitimate and downright harmful fears based not in fact, but in jaded rhetoric and political convenience.
Our broken immigration system needs real and humane solutions. What we clearly don’t need are more misguided, fragmented and destabilizing influences that harm our national conscious.
Yes, a flood of refugees and the poor entering the country can harm economies, communities, crime and poverty rates. But to resort to demonizing the newcomers, who often are fleeing real danger — as well as severe economic hardship — is simply not befitting this country shaped and invigorated by generations of immigrants legal and illegal.
For months, the narrative advanced by the nationalist fervor that helped propel President-elect Donald Trump into power has been that America’s immigration problems are akin to the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East. The argument is grossly inadequate. In the U.S., we have a problem of process for dealing with an artificial underclass. We need a clear and effective set of laws that prevent illegal entry and easy access to jobs, and a humane system for integrating and assimilating those already here.
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The president-elect, besides reasonably arguing that workers in the country illegally are taking jobs from Americans, would have you believe that a freakishly high crime rate exists among the estimated 11 million people who came here illegally. Certainly, crimes have occurred at the hands of those here illegally. But the quantifiable scope of crime is so small that it makes fear-mongering a hopelessly cynical over-reaction.
What should be of great concern is the present system’s tacit approval of keeping so many people and families living in fear and alienation, where they endure unjust hardships and exploitation. Our broken system breeds distrust of government, poverty, radicalization and crime. Here is where the outrage should be focused.
We have called for comprehensive immigration reform like that advanced by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who worked with a bipartisan group of senators to pass in 2013 a highly useful means toward fixing our broken immigration system. That plan provided nearly $40 billion to secure the border. It also created an arduous but reasonable path to citizenship. When that measure failed to gain traction, we also supported solutions short of citizenship that provided legal status, like an indefinite work visa.
No solution will work until this country also figures out how to tighten down the labor pool, so that those who have refused to come forward for legal status, or who arrived after a change in law, would be unable to find sustaining employment in the U.S.
If we’re going to make the system work, we must make it orderly and consistent.
Clearly, Trump got it right when he gambled that an early focus on immigration would be a game-changer. And no doubt, his tough talk speaks to the legitimate frustrations of Americans who fear for their livelihoods and their safety. Our broken system does hurt hardworking American families and also is unfair to those newcomers who play by the rules.
But the campaign is over. Now is the time for the president and Washington to look more soberly at this mess, and hash out a reasonable law. That would be a truly great accomplishment, and one we stand ready to applaud.