Today President Obama addressed the brokenness of our immigration system and called on Congress to move with the majority of American people towards a reconciliation of two of our greatest values: we are a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws. As we drag our feet and delay comprehensive reform our heritage is being torn by the conflicting demands of immigration and legality. President Obama pointed out that the only way to reconcile those values is to provide for legal opportunities for immigration: “we are standing at the border today because we also recognize that being a nation of laws goes hand in hand with being a nation of immigrants” however “the most significant step we can take now to secure the borders is to fix the system as a whole – so that fewer people have incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place.”
Delivered at the Chamizal National Memorial in El Paso, Texas, the President’s speech mostly sought to frame the need to reform the immigration system in practical and economic terms. Obama urged Congress to consider opening up more legal pathways to the United States so as to help maintain the countries’ economic advantage while reducing the number of immigrants who enter illegally to fill that work demand.
But the President also gave mention to some of the moral aspects of immigration reform that we at LIRS keep at the core of our concern. The President addressed family reunification saying, “I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families. That’s not right. That’s not who we are.” He also called on Congress to take up the DREAM Act once again and provide a pathway to citizenship for children who have grown up in this country and know no other home. “We should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents […]The idea that we would punish them is cruel and it makes no sense. We are a better nation than that.”
He also warned against those who want to constantly move the goal posts on security and stick to the “borders first” refrain that has replaced meaningful reflection on immigration in the recent past.
So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time. They’ll say we need to triple the border patrol. Or quadruple the border patrol. They’ll say we need a higher fence to support reform.
Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat.
They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.
But the truth is, the measures we’ve put in place are getting results. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve seized 31 percent more drugs, 75 percent more currency, and 64 percent more weapons than before. Even as we’ve stepped up patrols, apprehensions along the border have been cut by nearly 40 percent from two years ago – that means far fewer people are attempting to cross the border illegally.
So, the question is whether those in Congress who previously walked away in the name of enforcement are now ready to come back to the table and finish the work we’ve started. We have to put the politics aside. And if we do, I’m confident we can find common ground. Washington is behind the country on this. Already, there is a growing coalition of leaders across America who don’t always see eye-to-eye, but who are coming together on this issue. They see the harmful consequences of this broken system for their businesses and communities. They understand why we need to act.
LIRS applauds the President’s words but looks forward to greater action on the issue of immigration. In these tough economic times it is only natural that the concerns raised are economic and practical, but we always look at the issue of migration from the human lens. We hear of the pains of families being dragged apart, of the vulnerable being exploited, of the wonderful potentials of life denied, and cannot bear to watch more of God’s gifts be wasted because our fears get the best of us.
We applaud the President for bringing up some essential points, like the need for a tough but fair path to citizenship. We applaud his reminder of what makes this country great; not our military might or our deep pockets but “that anyone can write the next chapter of our story. It doesn’t matter where you come from; what matters is that you believe in the ideals on which we were founded; that you believe all of us are equal and deserve the freedom to pursue happiness. In embracing America, you can become American. And that enriches all of us.”
We stand ready to work with anyone who believes in these ideals and welcomes the gifts of the newcomer. We pray that this speech will lead to action and not satisfy the skeptics that claim this is just election season rhetoric to appease voters in 2012.
Join us at our Action Center and continue to put pressure on our leaders to make sure they follow through on immigration reform. Your voice is heard, and it is very powerful. Tell them you cannot wait till the next election is over, because our people and our communities are being hurt today.