It’s past time to reform U.S. immigration laws

April 7, 2013 

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy told a euphoric crowd in West Berlin that the Berlin Wall was a sign of communism’s failure.

“Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect,” he said, “But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

Since the Sept. 11 terror strikes, Kennedy’s assertion of the confidence expressed by free movement into and out of democratic nations has been challenged by a concern with security. Where that fixation has joined with nativism, the nation has sealed itself up and built walls along its southern border.

The walls do not “keep our people in,” but they do keep many people out, people whose talents, drive and dreams would not threaten the nation, but strengthen it.

Our strength

There is a dawning recognition in Washington that a fortress nation is not a stronger one. Our strength, our uniquely American strength, lies in our ability to attract and employ immigrants who can answer the needs of the nation and share in and add to its greatness. But the effort to reform immigration is impeded by myths, prejudice and fear. And that resistance has been deepened by demagoguery that makes immigration reform a hazardous issue for politicians.

Finally, there are signs of wisdom on immigration. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is expected to present immigration reforms this week. The proposed changes will provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people now living in the nation illegally and will allow for flexibility as the need for foreign laborers rises and falls with the economy. We hope their proposals also fix the system of outdated quotas and limits that divide families and hinder businesses from hiring skilled foreign workers.

The reform effort is getting a push from a new coalition, the Partnership for a New American Economy. The group is countering opposition to easing immigration rules by offering a compelling economic argument. The partnership has brought together more than 500 Republican, Democratic and independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will stimulate the economy. The co-chairs include New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch and J.W. Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International. The partnership is taking aim at the slow and cumbersome U.S. system that often excludes workers because of red tape rather than good reason.

Proof in numbers

The group seeks to create political cover for lawmakers by educating the public on the benefits immigrants can offer. For instance, 28 percent of new businesses created in this country in 2011 were started by immigrants; 76 percent of patents that the nation’s top 10 patent-producing universities received in 2011 had a foreign-born inventor, and low-skilled immigrant laborers and caregivers will be needed as the economy improves and baby boomers age.

On April 19, the group is sponsoring events around the nation in which university leaders will call for immigration reform. Illegal status

Meanwhile, many immigrants, frustrated by delays that extend for a decade or more, have resorted to entering the United States illegally or overstaying their visas. That has created a class of shadow workers who can’t fully contribute to their employers or their adopted nation through taxation.

Omar Baloch, a Raleigh immigration attorney, said he often gets calls from employers hoping to sponsor a worker here illegally who has become valuable to a business. Baloch tells them there’s nothing he can do under the current system.

“The immigration laws simply don’t reflect the reality that’s happening in the real world,” Baloch said. “Immigration law in the United States is more punitive in nature. It’s designed to keep people out, not bring people in.”

It’s time for the land of liberty to light its lamp again and welcome those who can share and advance the American Dream.

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