Immigration Reform--or Lack of It--Will Affect Us All

Congress and President Obama are in the midst of negotiating the terms of a comprehensive immigration reform package. No matter your position on the issue, most people recognize that reforming our system for incorporating new arrivals is long past due. While some are focusing on border security and punitive measures for those already here, South Central Indiana Jobs with Justice believes those efforts are misguided. Those calling for stricter enforcement and deportation miss the benefits that truly progressive immigration reform will bring, not just for immigrants, but for all of us.

Immigration is a fact of modern life. Trade agreements and the roll-back of barriers to exchange mean that we live in a truly global economy. Many of the newly-arrived, documented or not, will tell you that “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” As free trade has drastically affected local economic systems, workers have sought opportunities to support themselves and their families by migrating. Imagine what it must entail to make such a decision, to uproot oneself, to leave family and friends. Then imagine what it must be like to try to survive in a new system, without the full protections afforded by legal status. 

Once here, without a path to legal status or citizenship, these workers are subject to abusive conditions. Many immigrant workers perform low-wage work, and many face abuse from employers, such as wage theft, misclassification, unsafe conditions, and arbitrary discharge. These conditions create not just abuse of the worker but unfair advantages for unethical, often law-breaking, employers. The best way to ensure a level playing field for employers and to protect against abuse and exploitation of workers is to ensure all workers have legal status as well as vigorously enforced protections.

The families of immigrant workers can suffer as well. Children who entered the country with undocumented parents can face a lifetime of fear, exploitation, and competitive disadvantage through no fault of their own. The talented, hard-working children of undocumented parents deserve a chance at education, training, and the opportunity to contribute their talents to our nation. Comprehensive reform known as the Dream Act, will provide such opportunity.

Newly arrived workers revitalize our communities. Solid studies by independent groups like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Heartland Alliance for Human Rights show that newly arrived individuals and families are often the major factor in revitalizing small cities and towns that have suffered from de-industrialization, especially in the Midwest. New immigrants bring new life. Now they need full rights.

--Joe Varga (posted by John Clower)