In election years, politicians toss out promises of immigration reform like candy. President Obama garnered enthusiastic support from immigrants and their families when he spoke about the Dreamers and the need for a path to citizenship and a less punitive approach to undocumented workers and their families. Then he turned around and deported more people than any other president before him. Now presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are staking their ground, both courting the crucial Latino vote because they know they need it to win the White House in 2016.
More and more Republican presidential candidates, declared and undeclared, are entering the immigration reform debate. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has backtracked more than once on whether or not he supports a path to citizenship; currently he does not.
Senator Marco Rubio once drafted a piece of legislation very similar to the Dream Act, but never circulated it. Now Rubio has reversed himself, signing an amicus brief to support the continued injunction against President Obama’s executive action deferring deportations that break up families. Ted Cruz has performed a similar flip-flop.
At one time both Rubio and Jeb Bush supported a path to citizenship, but now the words that cross their lips are “legal status” and not “citizenship.” Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee are hammering on border security. But stay tuned as the Republican position changes again when the race shifts from a beauty pageant for the anti-immigrant base to a general election that hinges on the growing Latino vote.
The Republican Party learned the hard way that immigrant-bashing doesn’t pay in 2008 and again in 2012. Moderate Republicans have been trying to push their party to work on immigration reform, but the more vitriolic members of the party may lose one more election before they surrender to America’s demographic reality.
Meanwhile, immigration policy is still a mess. Migrant women detained in Texas, in a for-profit immigrant detention center, are on a hunger strike because they and their children have been interned in horrible conditions for too long with no change in sight. They are confined to their cells and denied due process in a gross miscarriage of justice.
We have the capacity to ease suffering. We are a rich country. All we lack is political will. When we gather that will, we can make dramatic change, and it doesn’t have to take much time. Consider the recent advancements in marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. Politicians were not on board until people forced them to confront the inherent discrimination in the current laws. The same thing can happen with immigration reform.
All people, everywhere, who care about justice, human rights, and the American ideal should push their representatives to make changes now for the hard-working immigrants in this country who live with the constant fear of being deported and being separated from their families. They are here and they are working now, without the rights and security many U.S. citizens enjoy. We cannot deport 11 million people. It is unrealistic and costly and would cause an unbearable burden to many of our people. It is inhumane, and not in the best interest of our country or our economy.
Those who oppose immigration reform can say it is about securing our borders or saving American jobs but the truth is the U.S. economy depends on immigrant labor, which is why Republicans, including the editorial page editors of The Wall Street Journal, support immigration reform.
The more compelling reason to push for reform is the one President Obama talked about, back when he was speaking so movingly about the Dreamers: basic human decency. As long as injustice reigns all over the planet, people will leave their country of origin for the promise of something better. And they will take great risks to provide for their loved ones, too. This has been the story of the United States from the very beginning.
If we want to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, we should look deep into the global policies that create unrest and change those policies, so people do not have to flee violence or hunger at great risk to themselves and their loved ones. But that is long term planning that can go on even as we bring more immediate relief to the 11 million people who are here today.
People without papers are still people, who are working, paying taxes, and contributing to this country even without the protections that citizens enjoy. They deserve some stability. We need to make systemic changes for the people alive today and for the people who will be here tomorrow, no matter what the politicians say.
Angie Trudell Vasquez is a Milwaukee-based poet and activist.
Image credit: Arab-American Institute