- by Eva Millona, Jeff Jacoby, and Robert Hedlund
Undocumented people fill out application forms for the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012 at Navy Pier in Chicago. (Sitthixay Ditthavong/AP)
After last month’s elections, both parties seem ready to make a serious effort to revise and update the nation’s immigration laws.
What should comprehensive immigration reform look like? Should the United States control the rate of immigration, and if so, how? What should be done about the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already here? And what about those who have been deported in recent years but still have family members living in the U.S.?
Eva Millona, Jeff Jacoby and Robert Hedlund offer their thoughts and proposals.
Eva Millona is executive director of, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the commonwealth’s largest organization representing the foreign born.
Anti-immigrant sentiment received a massive blow on Election day. President Barack Obama should seize the opportunity presented by his reelection — and by the renewed interest in immigration reform from Republicans — to push for fundamental immigration reform that reflects the economic and social changes that have occurred since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
According to a recent Cato Institute study, fundamental immigration reform that created a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers now in the U.S. — requiring them to register, pay a fine and pass a criminal background check — would add $1.5 trillion to the gross domestic product (GDP) over the next 10 years. By contrast, mass deportation would result in $2.6 trillion in lost GDP over 10 years.
Legalizing immigrant workers would protect honest employers from being undercut by unscrupulous competitors seeking to drive down wages by hiring undocumented workers. It would also end the morally indefensible crisis caused by our current policy of mass deportations. More than 1000 families were separated each day in 2011 as a result of this policy. A new immigration law should include an opportunity to reunite families separated by deportations.
We must also develop a better program for dealing with migrant workers, native-born workers, and their families. Employers that have abused the broken system for years should be penalized.
Today’s immigrants want what immigrants to America have always wanted — an opportunity to work hard and make a better life for their children. That’s why MIRA strongly supports the establishment of a national Office of Integration to develop and support integration policies that help immigrants achieve their full potential as active contributors to America’s social, economic, and civic fabric.
Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe op-ed columnist and a nationally recognized conservative commentator.
Vigorous debate about immigration has existed since before the nation’s founding. In 1751 Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens? They will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them … Those swarthy Germans will never adopt our language and customs any more than they can adopt our complexion.”
There is no contradiction between conservatism and support for a robust immigration policy. Until 1924 — with the exception of the disgraceful Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — the American tradition generally was to welcome all immigrants unless there was something specific about their behavior (e.g., polygamists, prostitutes) or health (those with infectious diseases) that made them undesirable.
The way to decrease illegal immigration is to increase legal immigration. The great majority of illegal immigrants come to the U.S. to work, because we have (or had until recently) an economy that creates hundreds of thousands of entry-level jobs each year. Most of them come with peaceful and productive intentions, seeking to improve their lot in life. We should make it possible for them to do so without running afoul of the law.
Illegal immigrants should be the kind of immigrants we don’t want — not people we don’t want just because they fall outside an arbitrary numerical quota. Ideally, we should have an immigration system that admits people on the basis of whether they seem likely to become good American citizens – and excludes those who pose a threat to our way of life. Would-be newcomers who are hard-working, patriotic, and self-supporting should be able to come here regardless of nationality — just as many of our ancestors did before the 1920s.
Immigration has always been one of the great secrets of our success. We shouldn’t be angry or distressed because so many foreigners want to join us.
The only time American should really worry about immigration is when people stop coming.
State Sen. Robert Hedlund is the assistant minority leader in the Massachusetts Senate, representing the Plymouth and Norfolk district since 1994.
The lack of a common sense immigration policy doesn’t just affect the federal government; it affects state and local governments too. In my experience, most Americans — whether Democrats, Republicans or Independents — understand and appreciate that we’re a nation of immigrants and a land of opportunity. Most of my constituents welcome new immigrants to their cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
But many citizens – again, of all political persuasions — get angry when they see people living here illegally at the taxpayers’ expense. This is true whether we’re talking about tuition at state colleges, public housing, or welfare benefits. That’s why, for example, the state legislature has overwhelmingly rejected allowing in-state tuition rates for college students who aren’t in the country legally — even if those young people have lived most of their lives in Massachusetts. On this issue, many of my more liberal Democratic colleagues have taken a harder line than I have; and that’s because they’re responding to what the voters want.
If people want to come to America to work — whether that’s for low-wage, entry-level jobs or for high-wage, high-skill jobs requiring advanced degrees — then we should make it possible for them to come here legally. Like most Republicans, like most Americans, I’m proud of my immigrant ancestry and I recognize the benefits new immigrants bring to our economy and our society. With the election over, I think now is the perfect time for President Obama to reach across the aisle and work to forge a bipartisan solution to our broken immigration system.
- WATCH video of these lectures — plus a Q & A with Eva Millona, Jeff Jacoby, and Robert Hedlund — here.
A special series by Cognoscenti and the School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.
- 10/2/12 Larry Summers and Greg Mankiw: Taxes And Spending
- 10/2/12 Thomas Kochan and John Kwoka: Economic Recovery
- 10/10/12 Barry Bluestone and Katharine Bradbury: Income Inequality And Social Mobility
- 10/17/12 Graham Allison and Juliette Kayyem: National And Homeland Security
- 10/24/12 Nicholas Burns and Stephen Kinzer: Foreign Policy
- 10/31/12 Michael Dukakis and Wendy Parmet: The Future Of ‘Obamacare’
- 11/8/12 David Seltz, James Roosevelt, Regina Herzlinger and Stephen D’Amato: Health Care Cost Containment
- 11/21/12 Edward Powell, Jon Feinman and Edward Davis: Gun Violence In Cities
- 12/5/12 Paul Toner, Jim Stergios and Tassy Warren: K-12 Education And Early Childhood Development
- 12/12/12 Eva Millona, Jeff Jacoby and Robert Hedlund: Immigration Reform
- 12/19/12 Deval Patrick and Michael Dukakis: Leveraging The Power Of The Oval Office
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