The Hill (Op-ed):
By Representative Loretta Sanchez
September 15, 2016
When Pope Francis visited Washington DC last year, he called upon Congress to practice compassion for the plight of migrants and to act on immigration “in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”
What Pope Francis was saying, in his gentle and diplomatic way, is that U.S. immigration policy is unjust, unwise, self-defeating, and badly in need of comprehensive reform. Indeed, I believe that such reform is the moral imperative of our generation, and must be “numero uno” on the national agenda. As a Catholic and the daughter of two hard-working Mexican immigrants, I am determined to achieve immigration reform that is true to both American values and present realities.
My parents, Ignacio and Maria, were forced to drop out of school in Mexico at a young age to work full time to help their families. Later, my mom and dad immigrated from poverty in Mexico, overcame enormous obstacles, contributed to their community, and built a strong family. They sacrificed and worked long hours to provide their children with opportunities that they didn’t have, and eventually all seven of their children earned college and advanced degrees. My parents are the only couple in American history to send two daughters to the U.S. Congress.
Most members of Congress have an immigrant heritage, depending on how far back they choose to look. Yet, while millions of families suffer, Congress has failed to fix our dysfunctional immigration system because of politics, prejudice, and unearned complacency. Our leaders must remember their roots and learn from the values that my immigrant parents instilled in me: the immigrant work ethic, love of family, generosity, faith, gratitude, strength, and perseverance.
At one time, we referred to these as core American values.
While America has always been a beacon of hope for immigrants, many immigrant communities have endured periods of discrimination. Throughout our history, immigrants from countries such as Ireland, Italy, Japan, China, Poland, Mexico, and Vietnam all went through periods of xenophobic prejudice and persecution on their path to acceptance and assimilation. Some continue to struggle for acceptance today. Yet each group of immigrants persevered, believed in America, and prospered.
America has been built and continues to thrive on the sacrifice and determination of hardworking immigrants.
Today, immigrant workers are indispensable to the cleaning, fishing, farming, manufacturing, hotel and foodservice industry. They contribute billions of dollars to our GDP, buy goods and services, and expand our tax base. As the Boomer generation ages, birth rates decline, and millennials gravitate to high-tech sectors, America faces critical labor shortages in the coming decades. It is essential that we create a rational immigration and visa system now to allow the free-flow of labor to fill projected shortages and fuel the economy.
Our present system of visa quotas and lotteries virtually ensures illegal immigration. We must allow our hard-working immigrant families to come out of the shadows, obtain legal status, and receive the respect and humane treatment they have earned.
Together, we can create an immigration system that includes a real roadmap to citizenship for undocumented workers, a rational visa program, humane treatment in detention centers, and effective border control measures. As a nation that values families, we must immediately terminate the ongoing forced separation of families. We must protect American children from the constant fear of losing one or both parents to immigration raids and deportation. That is why I voted for the DREAM Act and I fully support the expanded DACA and DAPA programs. If the courts will not allow these policies to move forward, then we must enact them into law as a crucial component of reform.
Immigration reform should not be a Republican versus Democrat issue. It can be built on our shared values and recognition of economic reality. The starting point for reform is to reject the lie that undocumented immigrants are criminals and to accept the fact that immigrants are essential to our prosperity. We all agree that immigrants guilty of violent crimes should be deported, but that is only a small dimension of the very large problem of meaningful immigration reform.
We will never resolve our immigration problem by treating it as a criminal problem or utilizing a nationwide dragnet to rectify it. That approach has never worked and represents a betrayal of our values and our heritage. When we choose to see immigrants as good people longing for freedom and a better life, we take the first crucial step toward rational reform.
Sanchez is representative for California’s 46th Congressional District and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSanchez
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com