Politicians must avoid the temptation to sign off on a bad deal just to be able to say they did something about immigration.
So what makes a good deal? Four principles are essential:
First, immigration reform absolutely must include a clear path to citizenship for hard-working individuals and families who came to this country to work, contribute and build a better life. Overwhelmingly, undocumented immigrants are people who have been working, paying taxes and building communities — to the extent that we’ve allowed them to.
Second, we should not create a group of second-class citizens through a guest-worker program. When immigrants come here in such a program, their lives are tied to their employer. If mistreated, they have virtually no ability to bargain, look for another job, or join a union — much less seek redress through our political system — making them easy targets for exploitation.
Third, we must make family reunification a priority. Current rules can force families in which just one partner is a U.S. citizen to separate for years, and it’s even harder for same-sex couples, who in most states cannot marry and whose marriages aren’t recognized by the federal government.
Fourth, companies that want more visas for highly skilled workers should be required to submit annual, comprehensive plans to Congress showing how they plan to expand opportunities for people who are already here, especially women, Americans from underserved communities, and returning military veterans.
The politics of immigration reform will be tough, and the passions on all sides are high. But a fairer system — one that’s good for all Americans as well as those seeking to come here — really is possible.
Orson Aguilar is executive director of The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.