Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Family values and a strong economy sound like comprehensive immigration reform

When rhetoric is flying about the harms of illegal immigration, and legislation is being proposed at federal, state, and even municipal levels to curb immigration, I start thinking in binaries to keep myself more sane. So, as I see it, immigrants are people; but from an administrative / legal standpoint, immigrants may be documented or undocumented. (And of course documented immigrants may be eligible to become citizens, meaning there are citizens who were once immigrants, but that kind of boundary-crossing just confuses things, and I'm trying to keep it simple here, so...)

Documented immigrants have legal rights to live and work in the United States. Factoid: Most immigrants enter the United States legally under family sponsorship. About 500,000 family members receive permanent residency each year through this type of sponsorship. Talk about family values: how about an immigration system that helps keep families together?

Then there are undocumented immigrants. These are folks who enter the country without legal documentation. In some cases, they may be seeking asylum from persecution in their homelands or refugees fleeing war or natural disasters. Hard to get your hands on your passport when you're life is being threatened. And, yes, among those who come without papers, some are crossing borders to find work that pays enough to support themselves and family back home. (If you have a chance to see it, I recommend Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary. A little corny on the title, but the content is good for understanding what some folks beyond the southern border go through to get to the U.S. and why.)

Point is, immigrant labor is supporting the American economy. 90% of the new job growth in 1996-2000 in 16 states, including Pennsylvania, was due to immigrants. Immigrant workers also pay income taxes and their employers pay payroll taxes. And, as Kenny B. pointed out, undocumented immigrants are already barred from all major public benefit programs in Pennsylvania. They are not eligible for cash welfare, food stamps, full-scope medical assistance, disability benefits or subsidized housing. So the argument that undocumented immigrants are draining public benefits just doesn't hold up.

As our PA legislators are holding immigration hearings over the next two weeks to figure out whether PA wants to play the feds and pass its own immigration laws, let's keep up the clear message that comprehensive immigration reform, as opposed to simply beefing up enforcement, can help us keep families together and keep our economy strong, too.

Jess in Philly


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