Immigration issues have been in the news in the United States for the last several years. The current system is outdated and cumbersome and the last several presidents and some prominent members of Congress have worked on comprehensive reform packages. In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a strong bipartisan majority, but the House refused to take it up and the rhetoric against reform has escalated.
Some of the Republican presidential candidates have been trying to outdo each other in their vehemence against undocumented immigrants, even going so far as to threaten denying birthright citizenship to babies born in the United States. There are also proposals to build walls on both the US-Mexico and US-Canada borders, disregarding the fact that many currently undocumented people reached the US by air or were documented at the time of their arrival or were trafficked into the country or are refugees.
The real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship for those who want to remain permanently and work visas for those who want to stay only for a limited amount of time. There also needs to be a better process for applying for visas that takes human needs into account, such as family unity and protection from violence and persecution. Why should someone fleeing Cuba be admitted while someone fleeing more dangerous conditions in El Salvador is not?
Adding to the picture is the current crisis in Europe regarding refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq and other unrest in the Middle East and northern Africa. Desperate people are taking to overcrowded and dangerous boats and rafts or are traveling overland to try to reach safety in Europe. While some countries, especially Germany, are being welcoming, others, such as Hungary, are denying safe transit through their countries.
Part of my upbringing as a Christian is that one should welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and treat every person with respect. I live in a country where the the vast majority of the population either are immigrants or their descendants and which often touts the strengths that our diversity lends to our democracy. (I also know our history and that our country has behaved unconscionably in dealing with the First Nations, those who were trafficked or enslaved, and various ethnic groups, including the Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned during world War II. None of this negates our current responsibilities toward those in need of refuge.)
I believe that all the nations need to work together to relieve the suffering of those displaced by violence and economic disruption. Some may be looking for permanent re-settlement in a new country, while others may need a safe place for a few years in hope that they can return to their country of origin. The United States, as one of the richest countries in the world, needs to do its part to help, accepting many more than the 10,000 places offered if more refugees wish to live here and offering financial and logistical aid to help in caring for refugees while they are being processed to go to their final destinations.
I know that many will argue that we can’t afford it, but we can. It’s all a matter of priorities. The United States spends huge amounts of money on our military, including weaponry and equipment that the military leaders don’t want or need. Billions more dollars could be spent on human needs programs both at home and abroad if military spending is brought in line with what is truly needed rather than what is embarked upon due to fear or pork-barrel politics. The tax code also is in need of major revision, re-instituting a more progressive tax system for both individuals and corporations, closing loopholes, eliminating tax havens, lowering taxes on the lower earners and increasing rates for high earners.
There is a lot to do. Enough with the grandstanding and fear-mongering. It’s time to get to work to address immigration in a comprehensive way.