With the Health Care Reform debate now nearing its close (at least for a while), the next important issue is coming up -- that is Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Having lived a good portion of my life in Southern California, I know a bit about immigration issues. Border states like California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have wrestled with the impact of immigration on health and education services. An attempt at reform was made in the 1980s, when President Reagan gave amnesty to a significant number of undocumented residents. But little has been done since, beyond trying (unsuccessfully) to "protect" the borders. In the mean time, more and more undocumented folks have come to the United States, seeking what immigrants have always sought, a stake in the promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They have taken seriously the invitation inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Part of the problem is that our immigration laws are both unjust (separating families, punishing children who came here with parents, etc.) and unworkable. As Cardinal Roger Mahoney writes in an On Faith column,
Our legal immigration system, basically ignored by Congress for nearly 50 years, is outmoded and inadequate to our future labor needs, especially when the economy recovers. There are simply not enough visas for unskilled workers to come legally. The family-based immigration system, which has helped immigrant families remain together and thrive for decades, is unworkable and now keeps families apart.
The combined effect of these policies has negatively impacted immigrant communities, including their legal resident and U.S. citizen members.
Although nativism seems to be on the rise, immigration reform has the potential to be an issue that can bring together bi-partisan support. President George W. Bush pushed immigration reform when he ran for President in 2000. John McCain has endorsed it (at least in the past). And now Senator Lindsey Graham has joined with Senator Chuck Shumer, in proposing immigration reform, one that focuses not just on enforcement, but also reforming the way in which immigrants are allowed to come into the country. Hopefully, the politics that drove the health care debate will not drive this one. Border states need this, employers need this, we need this. We are a nation of immigrants, let us celebrate our broad heritage, and also do what is right for all.