I think we can all agree that despite it being only Wednesday, this week has already been extremely pivotal for immigration reform. On Monday we saw a bipartisan group of senators (or the “Gang of 8” as some would call them) unveil their plan for sweeping immigration reform, and just yesterday afternoon the president addressed crowds in Nevada with a speech communicating many of the same ideas presented by the bipartisan effort. It is quite evident that immigration policy is currently at the forefront of political discussion, and that is a place where it most certainly deserves to be.
As we all know, immigration reform has always been a tricky and extremely conflict ridden subject. As Obama accurately stated in his speech “I promise you this, the closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.” Emotions are indeed quite high at the moment, but it is important for everyone to keep a clear state of mind and seek to understand what Obama and the bipartisan effort are actually talking about. How on earth is such a polarizing issue going to pull through the Senate and House? What exactly will these sweeping reforms actually entail?
Most of the rhetoric used by Obama and the senators in the past week has revolved around a couple key points. One of the first goals of both propositions is the improvement of enforcement. Obama mentioned strengthening our borders, and both propositions discussed creating a “tough, fair, effective and mandatory employment verification system”, a way for employers to discover whether or not a potential employee is present lawfully or not. They also asserted that they would come down harder on businesses who hire non-citizens. Obama also acknowledged that our immigration policy has fallen significantly behind the pace of the world we live in, that it “no longer reflects the realities of our time”. Immigration policy needs to be restructured to fit the constantly morphing world of the 21st century. The US will lose its competitive, economic edge if the best and brightest are not allowed to see their ideas materialize and create thriving businesses within our borders.
These plans for immigration reform include many different aspects: enforcement, economic gain, workers’ rights, employment verification etc. But of course, no reforms could be complete without addressing the 11 million undocumented immigrants that currently live within our borders. To most people this seems to be the most tricky and controversial part of reform. Obama and the bipartisan group both called for the need to provide some kind of path to citizenship for those who are present unlawfully. It would be a system that would be tough but fair, allowing undocumented immigrants to earn their citizenship by passing background checks, learning English, paying fines and back taxes, and “going to the back of the line” so that other people who are trying to come in legally have a fair chance as well. Obama also mentioned in his speech the DREAMers, young adults who entered the United States without a valid visa when they were young children. The DREAM Act has been part of the recent push for immigration reform and would allow ways for young, college aged undocumented immigrants to acquire green cards and continue their lives in the United States by receiving a university education or serving in the military.
At times the political jargon can be somewhat confusing and disheartening, but both Obama and the Gang of 8 have presented their goals in a straightforward and comprehensible manner. I do believe that we can all be encouraged to see people in our government working together for something, casting aside the fears of crossing party lines to achieve what they believe is right and good for our country and the people that wish to call it their home.
To be frank, I am somewhat of a newbie when it comes to immigration reform. I am quite used to hearing the strongly conflicting opinions of my conservative extended family and my liberal college aged friends, but it wasn’t until the past year or so that I actually began to understand what was going on in both the political arenas of Washington and the living rooms of both legal and undocumented immigrants all over the country. I have discovered a great many things about the complexities of immigration, but most importantly I have found that this issue is not something distant and impersonal, but rather it’s an issue that can resonate deeply with anyone who will allow their hearts and minds to be opened. For me that resonance came when I realized that I grew up as an immigrant of sorts. I was born in the US, but my family moved to the former Soviet Union when I was only six months of age. I have lived most of my life in a country where I was not a citizen, yet I most deeply consider it my true home. I have discovered the part of myself that can identify with the 11 million immigrants who have found themselves in a place where they are told they don’t belong, and I earnestly believe that regardless of political affiliation we can all find that part of us that is encouraged and fortified by the stories of our immigrant neighbors and the leaders of our nation finally coming together to see what can be done.
Abbi Watkins hails from Kiev, Ukraine and is a junior at Wheaton College where she is studying International Relations. She is currently interning with World Relief, working with the issue of immigration.
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