Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Blog
In all likelihood, comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t stand a chance of passing through House this summer. Despite the growing, bi-partisan consensus that Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s shocking primary upset had little to do with his support of limited immigration reform, Republicans and Democrats alike are shying away from addressing even the smallest reforms that can help alleviate suffering felt by many immigrant groups.
On Wednesday, AAI hosted a Congressional briefing with panelists from a broad spectrum of ethnic groups which are directly impacted by the US’s failing immigration system. Experts included: AAI President Jim Zogby, Dr. Barbara Andersen (Polish American Congress), Billy Lawless (Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform), Alexandra Chalupa (US United for Ukraine & the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council), and Kamal Essahab (National Immigration Forum).
Together, the panelists’ testimonies underscored that the United States was and continues to be built by the contributions of immigrants. Whether it’s the Irish in Chicago who own restaurants or construction companies, the Polish Americans who labored in coal and steel mines to prop up the US’s burgeoning industrial economy, or the Arab Americans who have made pivotal contributions to American science, entertainment and economy, data shows that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed and are responsible for 22% of new businesses opened since 2011, a timeframe punctuated by a brutal economic downturn.
The mutually reinforcing messages from the panelists about how immigrants have had significant impacts on every facet of American life highlights the very fact that core American values are at stake in the immigration debate. As Dr. Zogby puts it, “it is a double-birth, as immigrants become American, so America becomes a reflection of her immigrants.”
Panelist Kamal Essahab, who was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House, highlights that even though immigration reform doesn’t look promising in the House this summer, there are many improvements taking ground on the state and local level. Not only are states putting stop-work orders on many of the most controversial immigration legislation, like in Arizona, many states are now granting in-state tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, and issuing drivers licenses as well. These gains, while not comprehensive, go miles towards tapping into the potential of immigrants to have a positive economic impact.
Other issues, however, must be addressed at the federal level, either in Congress or by Executive order. The appalling conditions in detention centers, the limited quantity of H1-B work visas and visa lottery slots, a pathway to citizenship through military enlistment, and the ~20 year backlog on family reunification green cards, the broken American immigration system negatively impacts every ethnic group in the United States and has serious implications for our shared future. AAI’s briefing reinforced for Members of Congress and their staff that there is a broad consensus in favor of reform shared by ethnic communities, the business community, and their colleagues from both parties. Reform cannot wait on election year politicking, or Executive reluctance, we must continue to join together with our allies to push for meaningful reform.
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