Message to Congress: fix broken immigration policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 12 21:46:37 UTC 2007

Congress: Reform broken immigration policy

Friday, May 11, 2007

Here's a draft of Sunday's editorial. It's the first in a two-part series.
Send comments to Barbara Curtin, the lead writer.

Starting Monday, the national debate on illegal immigration is expected to
shift to the U.S. Senate, where it belongs. Only Congress can reform the
major parts of this nation's broken immigration system: securing our
borders, holding employers accountable for obeying the law and providing
additional workers needed to keep our economy strong.

For years, that system has been in disarray. Americans can't trust that
their own borders work to keep out people who don't belong here. Immigrants
who try to "play by the rules" are stymied by years-long delays. Documents
to verify employment eligibility are easily forged, and checking them out
can take months.

Until the past few years, these problems concerned mainly residents of
border states, big cities and farm communities. But immigrants, legal and
illegal alike, have moved out across the nation to smaller cities and towns.
The changes have transformed neighborhoods from Corvallis to Northeast Salem
to Woodburn.

Mid-Valley residents raise reasonable questions about the cost to local
social services and schools. They question whether Spanish will overtake
English as the first language of this land. Above all, they ask how the
presence of 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants can be reconciled
with the fact that this nation was founded on the rule of law.

These are good points. But when the feds have seized on just one solution —
say, tightening security on the Southwest border — there have been
unintended consequences. In this case, illegal immigrants who might have
worked a year or two, then returned south, decided that was too risky.
Instead, they stayed and put down roots.

As President Bush said in a commencement address at Miami Dade College April
28, "We must address all elements of this problem together — or none of them
will be solved at all."

That is Congress' job this year.

Fix immigration policy

Today and Monday, we'll look specifically at the part of the immigration
debate that concerns most Oregonians — that is, the influx of relatively
low-skilled Latin American immigrants. Here are key areas that Congress must

Improve methods for securing our borders. A functional immigration system
would send job-seekers through the front door through a visa process that
really works. That would leave the back doors for drug smugglers, would-be
terrorists and others who must be kept out.

On the U.S.-Mexico border, that back door is poorly guarded. The U.S. has
poured billions into walls, electronic surveillance and Border Patrol
agents. However, it had not assessed how well any of these strategies
actually work, according to the 2006 report by the Independent Talk Force on
Immigration and America's Future. Such evaluation is essential before
investing more of taxpayers' money.

Offer visas for the foreign workers this country really needs. The United
States offered just 5,000 visas for low-skilled workers in 2005, but somehow
nearly a half-million immigrants found work without proper documents.
Congress has tacked on lots of loopholes and special exemptions to unrelated
legislation, including one that makes it easier to recruit professional
baseball and hockey players. But it hasn't done anything to help Mid-Valley
farmers get legal workers to tend nursery crops and harvest cherries.

Immigration columnist Tamar Jacoby writes in the Los Angeles Times, "It's as
if we were making cars and had to import the steel, but our steel quotas
provided only two-thirds of what we needed, and the other third had to be
smuggled in for the economy to function at full capacity."

Offer temporary visas for those who don't want to stay. Some immigrants
truly hope to earn a nest egg and return home in a year or two. The visa
process should encourage this. However, good workers who change their minds
should be able to apply to stay on.

Allow legal residents to sponsor certain relatives for immigration. This
sounds counter-intuitive; why bring in more immigrants if the nation is
concerned about having too many? But our immigration policy has long
respected the stability that family ties bring. Relatives help set up family
businesses; they pitch in to pay for children's education. They keep
immigrant communities from being dominated by rootless single men. Good
immigration policy doesn't simply fill jobs; it reunites families as well.

Hold employers accountable; but give them better tools to work with. Current
methods for checking acceptable documents are unwieldy and prone to error.
Oregon farmers, nursery owners, contractors and others shouldn't have to
become documents experts to get a willing worker to do a job that needs
doing. Nor should they have to fear that using a document-checking program
will tip off immigration authorities and spark a raid, as has happened
elsewhere. Either improve the document-checking program, or accept a very
limited number of secure, hard-to-forge documents as verification that a
person is eligible to work.

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