Is the United States ready to move from border security to immigration reform?
When you were in elementary school and middle school, what were you taught about immigration?
Did you learn about the influx of new Americans of the 1800s, with the Statue of Liberty acting as a beacon of hope? Maybe you had to recite the Emma Lazarus poem painting America as a country of open arms? Or perhaps you were given a more realistic picture of struggles, of hardships and poor working conditions and discriminatory laws.
Immigration has always been a heated topic, but in the past decade, it’s become especially so.
With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks the federal government made national security a top priority, immediately passing the Patriot Act in the fall of 2001. The law expanded the scope of immigrants who are ineligible for admission to the United States – or eligible for deportation – because of suspected terrorist activities.
A debate about immigrants living in the country illegally spun off this, and became a balancing act for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama: accommodating well-intentioned people who seek to become part of our country while barring those who would do us harm.
The reality uncovered over time was that things were not this cut-and-dried. Sometimes well-intentioned people happen to be here illegally. Perhaps their visa expired; maybe they didn’t leave immediately because they had a steady income. Maybe there’s a more desperate need for money and employment that their native country cannot provide.
For many, this is simply unacceptable: If someone is here illegally, they should get the boot, no question about it; our country does not have to coddle those who do not want to abide by our rules.
For others, this is an indicator that maybe those rules are too complicated – maybe the system isn’t working, and perhaps it should be overhauled to make it easier for people to emigrate to the United States.
President Bush tried to do this, unsuccessfully, beginning in 2004; President Obama is trying now, and meeting with the same resistance.
The issue is where to begin. Those who favor a stricter approach to immigration want to first secure the borders and make sure we’re doing everything we can to prevent illegal entry into the United States. (This primarily means the southern border, with Mexico – the country’s poverty often drives its citizens to find work to the north.) Once the borders are secure, proponents say we can talk about making it easier for people to gain legal residency.
Obama argues that the first part is done; border security has been reinforced over the past six years. A border fence has been erected, more Border Patrol agents have been trained and are in place, the number of intelligence analysts working along the border has been tripled, and plans are set to screen all rail shipments between the U.S. and Mexico.
“So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Obama said to a crowd in El Paso, Texas, this week. “But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I suspect there will be those who will try to move the goal posts one more time.”
The president joked that next, those supporting a crackdown on border security will ask for a moat. Or alligators in the moat. “They’ll never be satisfied,” Obama said. “And I understand that. That’s politics.”
Obama says it’s time to stop worrying about the border and start looking at our immigration system. It should be modified to crack down not only on those who are here illegally, but also on the businesses that hire them, he says. The path to legal immigration should also be improved to be more inclusive, and with incentives to stay given through higher education and military opportunities.
Critics feel that Obama’s remarks are preelection bluster, an attempt to win the favor of Hispanic voters – who become a bigger group of voters each election.
Others just feel his priorities are wrong. Rep. Peter King of New York, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, told the Christian Science Monitor that only 15 percent of the Southwest border is “under control,” not the entire border, as Obama suggests.
“The president has again called for amnesty for illegal immigrants without offering a single proposal to actually improve the security of our borders,” King said. “The time has come for real action, not words.”
While the fate of federal immigration reform remains uncertain, many states have passed their own laws. A controversial Arizona law in 2010 gave police authority to check the immigration status of anybody they detain; Georgia’s legislature passed a similar law this year. And Texas is considering a bill that would outlaw “sanctuary cities” – municipal governments, county governments or school districts that pass laws preventing police from enforcing stricter state immigration laws.
What do you think?
Is the United States ready to move from border security to immigration reform? Has the progress Obama highlighted done enough to deter illegal immigration? Is his vision for an overhaul of immigration policy a good one? Should more work be done on border security? What do you think of state laws, such as Arizona’s expansion of police authority or Texas’ move to outlaw sanctuary cities? Join the discussion!
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