Immigration reform can’t wait any longer

Immigration reform can’t wait any longer

- in Progressive Voices

Three students go on a hunger strike outside a U.S. Senator's office. Two young children wave a tearful goodbye to their father, not knowing when they will ever see him again. Hundreds march in the streets of Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. And all of these events occurred because our broken immigration system continues to undermine families across the state.

What lessons can we learn from this summer's immigration debate?

First, Arizona's now-infamous approach represents a step backward, not a step forward.  It has been clear from the start that Arizona's SB1070 was both misguided and unconstitutional. Judge Bolton's recent decision to block portions of the law demonstrates that the state's leadership over-reached with SB1070 and consequently stumbled into unconstitutional and hazardous legal territory. 

Conservative North Carolina lawmakers looking to score cheap political points want to follow Arizona's lead. But this won't get us any closer to addressing the problem of unauthorized immigration. Instead, it will take us down a path that is unconstitutional and impractical, wasting time and money in the process. As a nation, we can't have a complicated patchwork of 50 different immigration laws. We need one comprehensive, rational and humane immigration law implemented and enforced by the federal government. 

Instead of figuring out ways to legalize racial profiling, our state's lawmakers should direct their efforts toward pressuring Congress and the President to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  Durham's City Council recently passed a strongly worded resolution calling on North Carolina's congressional delegation to take "take swift and responsible legislative action to produce fair, humane, effective, and comprehensive federal immigration reform." These kinds of statements prod our political leaders into action on this controversial issue. 

This summer has also seen new attacks on the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship. The very notion that we would change the Constitution to revoke birthright citizenship is as un-American as it is impractical. Michele Waslin, a policy analyst with the Immigration Policy Center, states: "Repealing birthright citizenship does nothing to fix the underlying problems with the immigration system. It does not address the reasons people come here illegally in the first place; it does not reduce the number of undocumented immigrants – in fact, it increases the number because children will be born with no legal status." 

Gutting the amendment that gave people of color the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in the 19th century in order to deny people of color legal status in the 21st century is simply the worst kind of politics. A recent editorial from the Charlotte Observer agrees: "Even if the aim is immigration, to muck around in an amendment created specifically to counter slavery's legacy could open nasty racial animosity. [Senator Lindsay] Graham and others should, instead, work for sensible immigration reform. This constitutional proposal is not a battle worth fighting."

Now is the time for President Obama to lead, and for Republican leadership to engage. The Department of Justice was right to sue Arizona, and indeed the President has voiced his condemnation of SB1070, but it is time for him to take a more forceful lead on this issue. It's also time for rank and file Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to come to the negotiating table in good faith. To delay only invites other jurisdictions to follow in Arizona's misguided footsteps, and allows the underlying problem – our dysfunctional immigration system – to worsen.

 From deploying National Guard troops at the U.S.-Mexico border to deporting record numbers of the undocumented, President Obama has already demonstrated his commitment to enforce the law. It's time for Republican leadership in Congress to get equally serious about fixing our broken immigration system.  If a comprehensive solution is too much to tackle right before November's elections, Washington should pass the DREAM Act and the Ag-Jobs bill as down payments on the systemic reforms we desperately need. Both bills have broad bi-partisan support and have been discussed for years, and there's no reason they can't be passed in the coming months. 

We need reform for the thousands of students in this country who want only to educate themselves, work hard, and contribute to society. We need reform for the families being torn apart by an archaic system out of touch with the 21st century. We need reform so that immigrants are no longer seen as criminals to be rounded up but rather as new neighbors to be welcomed.  Justice delayed is always justice denied. The time to fix immigration is now.

Chris Liu-Beers is a Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches where he helps lead the NC Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants