COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM
The Congress elected in 2020 must enact legislation to resolve the plight of the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants contributing to our communities and coffers, in a comprehensive rather than piecemeal manner. The edifice of this reform must stand on the same four principles upon which the uniquely broad immigration policy of the United States was built: Family Unity, Needed Skills, Humanitarianism, and Diversity. A bill that I would author and sponsor would be based on these points.
Immediate legal status and a path to citizenship must be provided on humanitarian grounds to undocumented immigrants, some of whom have been laboring for decades on poverty wages to build and feed the nation, and many of whom have US citizen children. Those whose protections under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were terminated by President Trump must be included, if not already legalized.
For years we turned a blind eye to the illegal status of these immigrants while taking advantage of their services. Fairness now requires that we provide them with the privileges of legal residence and citizenship on par with their US citizen family members. If we don’t, we leave them in legal limbo, let employers exploit a vulnerable workforce, and allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to terrorize their families by swooping down on them as they go about their daily lives.
The legalization process should be simple and efficient, and broad - applying to anyone who has been in the country for one year or more. Meeting certain requirements, the undocumented immigrants would first quickly obtain legal status, valid for life, which would allow them to drive with a license, work legally, and travel home. If they so desire, after a specified number of years they would be eligible for a green card, then for citizenship. The number of years required at each step should be determined through assessment of current backlog and efforts to streamline the documentation process. Only violent crimes, or those that threaten national security, should bar eligibility.
The United States has needed both low-skill workers and high-skill
ones, both the poor who come to assuage the fire in their bellies and the geniuses in the arts, sciences, technology, engineering, and math. In the current migratory global economy, a large percentage of low-skill workers unable to earn a living back home would rather work here for two or three years, then return home with enough money to open a small business and sustain their family.
We need a “guest” agricultural or non-agricultural worker visa program that would allow these workers to stay for a few years and return, or to renew their visas if they want to stay longer. Such a program would fulfill the demands of the US economy for low-skilled work, and also help boost the economies of the home countries of workers, who often send back a portion of their earnings. Illegal entries into the US would end. Guest workers would have the same rights as US workers and be paid the same wages.
Moreover, the number of persons allowed in a fiscal year on the professional H-1B work visa should be increased substantially - from its current cap at 85,000. This will stop the flow of qualified professionals out of the US to places like Canada and Mexico.
The Federal Job Guarantee and employee empowerment will ensure that no U. S. resident's livelihood will be endangered by these measures. Everyone will retain access to a job at fair wages.
Instead of spending billions on building a wall, we can better stem the tide of illegal immigration by funding a Marshall Plan for Latin America to replace trade agreements that undermine peasant agriculture and by changing our drug and gun policies, which have vastly enriched and murderously empowered the drug cartels, whose wave of terror is driving people north in fear for their lives.
Increasingly sophisticated technology has substantially reduced persons sneaking in from across the border. The new border-crossers are the millions fleeing Central America to escape the extreme violence of drug cartels, millions who are openly seeking asylum protection at the border. A wall will not stop them.
Our war on drugs is responsible in part for this new migration. It not only fails to stem the drug trade, but also keeps drugs illegal, which enriches the drug lords the war was originally supposed to prosecute. If we treat drug use as a health, rather than a criminal problem, we can undermine the illegal drug business and greatly reduce the desperation that is driving so many to risk illegal immigration. This would also reduce our mass incarceration prison problem, which would help the families and comnmunities of the affected, disproportionately minority prison population, as well as free up tax dollars for the public investments we need.
And rather than building a wall, many more trained asylum officers and immigration judges should be hired to make asylum more efficient and humane. Innocents should not languish in immigration detention centers while waiting for a hearing before the judge, nor in unhealthy and unsafe make-shift camps across the border in Mexico where they lack access to U.S. lawyers. Nor should children be cruelly separated from their parents in an attempt to deter new arrivals at the border. Children who arrive at the border unaccompanied should be released to family members or friends, whose legal status should not disqualify them from such guardianship. We must continue to sustain and strengthen our historic mission of providing safe harbor to those confronting persecution at home.
Finally, since half of the undocumented are not border-crossers, but rather those arriving legally on visas and overstaying the time given to them by the terms of their visa, we need an exit control system to ensure that people leave by the visa expiration date. Under this system, a person’s passport would be stamped on departure, providing a record of those arrivees who left timely and aiding the apprehension and removal of those who remained in the country illegally.
We need to remove the fear of joblessness and wage depression that stokes anti-immigrant feeling here and abroad. This insecurity has fueled the rise of authoritarian demagogues, peddling a burgeoning and violent anti-democratic nationalism advocating ethnic and racial privilege. We can overcome this threat to democracy not through empty words, but by providing guaranteed jobs at a fair wage with collective bargaining and worker participation on corporate boards, reforms from which we all can benefit.
Law enforcement should not agree to ICE requests (known as detainers) to hold for 48 hours any person who is otherwise releasable by posting bond to await a court hearing (and has thus not been proven guilty) or by completing sentence time. This amounts to unconstitutional re-arrest for either the same crime or for a new crime that the person couldn’t have committed while in jail. The only exception to this policy would be where a person commits a crime pre-listed as extremely violent, dangerous to the community, or threatenting national security and ICE obtains a judicial warrant for the added detention.
In addition, all persons arrested should be entitled to the four “Miranda” rights, which include being informed before interrogation that they have a right to remain silent. The United States constitution applies to all persons, not just to all documented persons. Arrests by local law enforcement should not be an automatic pipeline to detention and removal for the undocumented. Current policies foster fear and distrust of police and sheriff’s departments, and a reluctance in the undocumented community to report crimes.
We must prohibit the deportations of immediate family members of United States citizens and non-citizen veterans. Our families must not be torn apart. We must also increase our immigration quotas to reduce the long waiting times that are leaving families separated. If we genuinely respect family values, we must keep families together and encourage family reunification. And we must continue to allow eligible persons to petition for their spouses, unmarried and married children, parents, and siblings. A “chain” migration including these relatives is justified: many of us need more than a nuclear family to be happy and productive.
We must retain the Diversity Visa Lottery. This program has countered the previously low quotas of immigration for people from many countries, like those from Africa, for whom family or employment avenues to entry were not available. The Diversity Via Lottery enables such populations to add their distinctive cultural ingredients and flavors to the rich stew that makes the United States so special for the whole globe. These persons, and their spouses and minor children who accompany them, pose no security threats because they are rigorously vetted before entering.
These ideas are the foundation of my legislative plan, which will establish the United States once more as a shining beacon of hope to the rest of the world, while ensuring our safety and security in the years to come.