Posted on May 16, 2015 in Arab American Institute

America’s current immigration system is broken. Immigrants and citizens alike have had their families fractured and countless hardworking individuals have been forced to live in the shadows. Comprehensive immigration reform, aimed at making the system fair, robust and easily understood, is the only way to address these problems.

The Arab American community applauds the efforts underway to address fundamental immigration reform. A thoughtful discussion of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is long overdue and we are pleased to be part of it.

Protecting the rights of immigrants must remain a priority without compromising our right to control who enters and works in the country, to enforce the integrity of our borders, and to formulate immigration policy. The Arab American community has been impacted by increased and heavy-handed immigration enforcement policies over the last 10 years, often in ways that have been at odds with the American values of equal protection and individual rights. Though our government can determine immigration status and enforce immigration laws, the enforcement of these laws must be performed humanely, within the scope of the U.S. Constitution, and it must prioritize due process and equal protection.

AAI Issue Brief on SyriaAAI Issue Brief: Immigration

 

Background

Immigration reform efforts remain at the forefront of American politics, and a defining characteristic of our nation’s history as a country founded and built on the contributions of immigrants. Last summer, Congress once again took up legislation to reform our broken immigration system, but failed to pass any bill that addresses the system’s failures and the suffering that it causes for millions of undocumented immigrants.

Thanks in part to advocacy efforts lead by a broad coalition including AAI, President Obama chose to use his executive authority to intervene on behalf of thousands of immigrants facing deportation following Congress’ failure to pass an immigration bill. The President’s Executive action outlines criteria to prioritize certain classes of immigrants, which if met, would allow these individuals to obtain legal-permanent or legal-temporary status. It also increases the number of H1-B work visas, allowing U.S. companies to hire highly skilled foreigners.

While the White House’s action provided a temporary fix for two pressing issues, the systemic flaws of the U.S. immigration system must be addressed through comprehensive legislative reform. A bipartisan bill passed by the House and Senate with the cooperation and support of the Executive Branch, will best serve the needs of the country and the thousands of men, women, and children whose status remains in flux as a result of flawed policies.

The Problem

The Arab American community has been impacted by increased and heavy-handed immigration enforcement policies over the last 10 years, often at the expense of equal protection and various civil liberties. Policies governing family reunification must remain a cornerstone of immigration reform efforts. While any discussion of immigration reform will undoubtedly emphasize border security, a pathway to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States should not be contingent upon border issues alone. This approach would inevitably leave millions of immigrants in limbo, prolonging their wait, and often their separation from family members. A comprehensive bill must also address visa backlogs; STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), work, and family visas; and immigration courts.

The situation for many immigrants remains dire: thousands of children, who entered the U.S. illegally for a variety of reasons, now face deportation as young adults. It is important that President Obama and Congress address this matter directly.

Moving Forward

 

  • Pressure the House of Representatives to enter negotiations with the Senate over the comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed in June 2013 with bipartisan support.
  • Address the erosion of family reunification as a core component of our nation’s immigration system. Family reunification reaffirms our nation’s underlying identity as a nation of immigrants, whose families have contributed to every facet of American life. Family reunification visas should not be cut as other classes of visas are increased.
  • Include the DREAM Act in any comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide an expedited path to citizenship for individuals who are undocumented through no fault of their own.
  • The U.S. government should enact legislation and policies on immigration that promote the safety, equal protection, and civil liberties of all Americans.
  • Encourage the Obama administration to restrict expedited removal; create an independent body which monitors the expedited removal process, with a particular focus on asylum seekers; and restore Matter of Lozada, which guarantees an immigrant the constitutional right to effective counsel in a removal proceeding.
  • Include provisions in reform efforts and legislative language that address the serious problems with Secure Communities, the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), and the Department of Homeland Security’s 287(g) program. These programs entangle local police in immigration enforcement and have led to arrests based on minor infractions that undermine community trust in local enforcement, thus compromising public safety and incentivizing profiling.
  • Ensure real immigration reform eliminates ineffective initiatives such as NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) that base actions on ethnicity, religion, or national origin.