Riding my bike to work in l00-plus degree weather, I can't help but think of the immigrants' plight — the risks and dreams haunting them — which drives them to hazard long, life-threatening experiences to cross the U.S.-Mexico border successfully.
This imagery is countered by the highly charged rhetoric, intense emotionalism, and extreme proposals being publicly debated in our country today. The movement of people, their drive and will to reach their dreamed-of destinations, is a drama not only high on the 2006 electoral agenda, but one that has been a key part of the U.S. Southwest experience since time immemorial.
So what are the essentials for us to know and consider? I suggest we think in terms of reform, policy scope/integration, and policy implementation.
The sense of urgency for substantive reform requires that we consider the following components of reform: i.e., more border patrol and equipment, legalization of whatever sort, employer sanctions, and humane policies, all of which already exist in one form or another. If earlier immigration law (IRCA)1 includes most of the components of the current immigration reform proposals being debated in Congress, among other things an updated version of guest worker status, what exactly are the major reforms being proposed?
Is it more of the same? Or is it possible that the moment offers an opportunity for some substantial reform, and for change that would result in a substantive makeover of current patterns of immigration?
The second essential is policy scope and integration. Demonstrably, the scope of existing policies encompasses economic and political systems, historical ties and relationships, human motivations, and a web of complex cultural and inter-personal relationships. Thus, we need to address the realities rather than the fears emanating from them. For example, does the catch-and-release policy (holding only the Mexicans) fit current terrorist profiling underlying concerns for border security and terrorism? Since almost two-fifths of our "illegal" entrants are visa overstays, how do reform proposals address this issue? And since we are an "aging" workforce, is the connection to immigrants and especially to their sons and daughters appreciated as being a key part of this country's human capital development? Are policies and practices for legal immigration directly tied to the current undocumented immigration flows? There are many other areas of policy linking to a range of economic, trade, and foreign policy considerations that need to be integrated into an overall immigration discussion and policy package.
The third essential is policy implementation dealing with whatever comes after immigration reform legislation passes. Current rhetoric would have us believe we will have a totally different world than what we have now. For example, if tighter border security involves a wall, what is likely to be its effectiveness? Who will enforce more punitive employer sanctions? Will expanding border personnel create new problems surrounding successful recruitment and retention?
The three essentials propose that we get beyond the charged speechifying and deal with the realities and complexities of immigration, a force that is not easily contained and is an issue worldwide. The immigrant communities have made themselves more visible and provided a necessary voice to the human realities they encounter. They have also proposed policy solutions. Other voices are also making themselves heard. Let us hope our elected officials will catch up with the public voices, and discriminate wisely between tough realities and improvised just and integrated solutions.
1The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
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