Migrants continue to cross US border

An aerial view shows migrants, including children, walk next to razor wire after crossing the Rio Grande to seek humanitarian asylum during sunset in Eagle Pass, Texas on February 04, 2024.

(Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images)

US Immigration Policy Should Reflect That Immigrants Are Good for This Country

A real solution to immigration would be to embrace the fact that immigration makes us stronger. It’s time to think bigger than cruelty at the border and the Senate’s most recent, doomed plan.

Immigrants are good for this country. They work critical jobs, pay taxes, build businesses and introduce many of our favorite foods and cultural innovations (donuts, anyone?). But for decades, powerful players have chosen the self-serving politics of division over sensible immigration policies.

The immigrant experience is essential to the American story. Our communities comprise those who came here to seek safety, work, study and join their families. They make the United States the strong, diverse nation that it is.

Immigrants were more likely to be essential workers during the pandemic, and there’s no shortage of crucial roles for them in the future. As the population ages, more of us will need things like home healthcare — a workforce that’s one-fourth immigrant and needs to grow fast to meet the need.

We should embrace the vitality and diversity that immigration can bring [and]0 refuse to be divided by those who want to scare us...

In fact, experts say that limiting immigration could cost our country $7 trillion in the years to come. That’s the projected economic benefit of recent arrivals over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

We need immigration. And many of us know this, with 68 percent of Americans saying immigration is good for the country. Yet, over the last few decades, our government has made it much harder and more punitive for immigrants to claim their rights to a dignified future.

Detention centers, deportations and walls are deadly, and inhumane, and tear families apart. We spend untold billions on these cruelties — more than double what we spent 20 years ago. And they don’t make it any less likely that some people will need to leave their home countries for freedom, safety or opportunity.

Yet, we continue responding to the “problem” of people seeking refuge here by doubling down on these false solutions. All of us — new immigrants and descendants of old ones — are stuck in this policy limbo because of powerful people who benefit from dividing us and preventing real solutions.

From politicians who win office with anti-immigrant campaigns to White supremacists who peddle racist conspiracy theories and corporations that rely on undocumented workers to keep wages low and deny workers’ rights, these people stoke fear about immigrants to divide us for their own gain. In reality, immigrants commit fewer crimes, pay more taxes and do critical jobs that most Americans don’t want.

The border policy proposal recently brought up by the Senate isn’t a real solution. It’s a threat. The so-called “border compromise” would have gutted the asylum system, ramped up mass surveillance and enforcement, and built a pointless and harmful border wall. It completely ignored the fact that the border region comprises communities that are safe to live in and help local economies thrive.

That proposal isn’t the best we can do. A real solution to immigration would be to embrace the fact that immigration makes us stronger. It would open up pathways to legalization and citizenship for immigrants who have been contributing to this country for years and for many of those who are making the trip now.

Our government must also address the real reasons that scores of people are leaving their homes in the first place — including U.S. economic sanctions that are strangling their home economies, our outsourced war on drugs that can make migrants’ home communities unlivable, and climate change-driven weather events that send millions fleeing.

Congress has made real progress before, and it can do it again.

The 1986 immigration law signed by President Ronald Reagan granted legalization to millions of undocumented immigrants. President George W. Bush supported a proposal that would have led to legalization for millions more. Under President Barack Obama, the Senate passed a plan that would have opened the door to legalization for many of the current 11 million undocumented people living and working in the country.

It’s time to think bigger than the Senate’s most recent, doomed plan. Immigrants have always kept this country moving forward. We should embrace the vitality and diversity that immigration can bring, refuse to be divided by those who want to scare us, and enact some genuine immigration reform.

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