During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to revamping this nation's broken immigration and health care systems.
With passage of the health care reform bill, the administration accomplished one of its major goals. The hope that he would take the political momentum from that victory and put it towards the next needed reform has been deflated, however. The economy is still the dominant topic in the media and likely will remain so until real growth and recovery occurs. Nonetheless, such circumstances should not prevent reform that is needed not only from the standpoint of human decency, but also for the future health of our country.
The current immigration system is clearly broken. Legal immigration is an expensive and confusing process that can take thousands of dollars and years of red tape. Children brought into this country without documentation have no way to legalize when they mature, leaving people whose only home is America and whose only fluent language is English, unable to legally work or earn an education after high school. A second-class subculture is created when we choose to ignore the underground economy this broken system creates.
Misconceptions run rampant through the debate, yet little attention is given to the real research on the issue. According to a study from the Fiscal Policy Institute, in 14 of the 25 largest metro areas in the country a larger number of immigrants hold white-collar jobs than do lower-wage work such as construction, manufacturing or cleaning. Boston is among those areas.
Many do not realize the range of people this country attracts, and associate all immigration with the negative stereotype of an "illegal." People of every ethnic background, social tier, economic bracket and set of beliefs, make up the kaleidoscope of our nation's immigrants.
One of the greatest barriers to reform is the polarization of the issue by the political parties. The immigration issue has been painted as the domain of Democrats and the bane of Republicans. With elections coming up in the fall, partisan politics plays heavily into the failure to act on this issue.
Yet the truth of the matter is that America is a nation of immigrants. Throughout our history immigrants have come here seeking a better way of life and have strengthened our nation in the process. As a nation, we are seriously at risk without a smooth immigration process able to draw in the ambitious peoples of the world seeking the same American dream we as citizens may take for granted.
We must recognize and be willing to accommodate newcomers for whom learning English takes time. The bond that unites our nation is not linguistic or ethnic homogeneity. Everyone working in America makes our economy stronger by paying taxes, buying locally and investing in local resources.
We should support legislation that promotes community safety, civil rights, and economic opportunity for every American. Reform that allows families to stay together, allows workers equal rights, protects the vulnerable from abuse, and streamlines the immigration process for the future, is required.
Current events illustrate what will not work for our country. Last week Arizona passed a law allowing local police to stop and question people based solely on "reasonable suspicion" regarding their immigration status. This all but mandates racial profiling throughout the state.
Once mere suspicions become the basis for action against a particular group, a McCarthy-esque witch hunt can ensue. The down economy, combined with a large immigrant population, as well as existing fears and stereotypes, create a perfect storm for discrimination and aggression that will only further divide the immigrant and native communities.
• • •
Sal Tripoli lives in Danvers.