Revisiting Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Almost one year after President Barack Obama is elected into the highest office of the land, and lawmakers have yet to scratch the surface of the inevitable immigration reforms. The longer they delay this process, the longer immigration problems will affect all facets of this nation’s greatest woes. The now-infamous “You lie!” outburst of Rep. Joe Wilson (R–SC) underscores one of this nation’s great divide: how people view the undocumented immigrants and what they think should be done about the issue of immigration.

President Obama has always been transparent in his support for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). He reiterated this support while appearing on Univision’s Al Punto, the Spanish language equivalent of a high-profile appearance on Meet the Press. “I am not backing off one minute from getting this done, but let’s face it, I’ve had a few things to do,” assures President Obama. “We had an economic crisis that almost saw a financial meltdown. Health care has taken longer than I would have liked, but it’s a big, tough issue. Immigration reform is gonna be tough as well, but I think we can get it done.”

Bipartisan Views in Congress

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has specific views of just how lawmakers should tackle the immigration issue. When asked by Al Punto whether he would “consider” supporting legalization of the undocumented workforce, Boehner said, “We’re a nation of laws, and enforcing the law has to be the first step in this process. There is a way to allow [undocumented immigrants] to continue to work in the United States for a temporary period of time. And if they want to become citizens, they need to do what everybody else in the world does, and that’s [to] apply for their home countries.”
Cutting through the rhetoric of this neatly packaged soundbite for television, here is essentially what Rep. Boehner proposes to do:

1) Enforcement means beefing up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers so they can do more random raids in employment worksites;

2) Followed by some sort of a temporary work permit, presumably with second class labor, civil, and political rights;

3) Then, these workers should leave the country to get “in line” to apply for permanent resident status, even though the primary cause of illegal immigration is that there simply is no “line” to get into, whether in the country of origin or here in the United States.

Boehner’s statement echoes other right-wing lawmakers’ “report-to-deport” scheme, first popularized by the likes of Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in 2005. Meanwhile, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) signaled his intent in tackling the immigration problem at a gathering of advocates in Washington, D.C., for the Unity in Motion Citizenship Day activities on September 17, 2009, coordinated by the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) and the Center for Community Change/Fair Immigration Reform Movement (CCC/FIRM). At the rally, Rep. Gutierrez said that, while bipartisanship has its place, there must be a bill that says what advocates want in an immigration reform bill—a progressive bill that incorporates the DREAM Act, reunites families, and includes a generous legalization program. Enforcement must be accomplished in a fair way that respects the rights and dignity of people. Rep. Gutierrez pledged to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House and his “principles” by October 13, 2009.

Public Support for CIR

While Congress gears up for another round of immigration reform bills, other powerful nongovernmental groups have joined in the crusade for this change. The nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, made its support of immigration reform official on September 15, 2009, when delegates to its national Convention in Pittsburgh ratified Resolution 11: The Labor Movement’s Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Other groups are also becoming more vocal about their support for CIR. Nonprofit organizations like Breakthrough: Building Human Rights Culture produced a video entitled “Restore Fairness,” in association with 26 leading organizations, which calls for the U.S. government to bring back due process and fairness to the immigration system in America. The video features interviews with members of Congress, judges, and advocates. It also features the personal stories of victims of a denial of due process in the immigration system.

The Time for CIR Is Now

Being an immigration lawyer, I am biased toward CIR. I experience first-hand the frustration of working through the labyrinth of immigration law and regulations that were passed, amended, and became obsolete to “solve” temporary, isolated problems rather than overhaul a broken system as a whole. As a result, we have more than 12 million (and counting) undocumented workers who are stuck in limbo. I am hopeful for an overhaul in the immigration system that will bring these workers out of the shadow.

Just imagine if each undocumented is fined a certain fee for coming here illegally, receives the right working documents so he or she can start participating in Social Security and paying yearly taxes (although some already have a tax identification number (TIN)), and pays for health insurance (either through an employer or individually). I’m no math whiz, but crunching the figures of what will result from an overhaul in the immigration system will improve the economy (multiply the fine by 12 million or so to pay for our trillion deficit), healthcare (legitimate employment means being able to afford heath care insurance or having employers provide them insurance benefits), and education (undocumented children are able to go to school and contribute to the continuing development of science, technology, and everything else that makes the United States a super power).

Just think of the endless possibilities. Considering the abysmal state of this nation, the time for CIR is NOW.


Kristine Tungol Cabagnot is an immigration attorney and legal editor at the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor of Fil-Am Ako, a website celebrating Filipino culture and traditions. She welcomes your thoughts and opinions at

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