President Bush’s “plan” To Reform Immigration — We Can Do Better

Kevin S. Parker

March 27, 2009

President Bush’s “Plan” to Reform Immigration — We Can Do Better

For decades, immigrant communities not only in Brooklyn but across the United States have expressed concerns about the unfairness of our nation’s immigration system. When the President revealed his immigration reform plan January 7, many immigrants were overjoyed about the possibility that a major burden had been lifted off their shoulders. A closer examination of the plan, however, reveals that it leaves much to be desired, and that more can be done. The President’s latest proposal leaves much to be desired. Any attempt at real immigration reform cannot just address granting of work permits which creates a kind of legal indentured servitude without a family reunification component.

Moreover, the President must realize that for any kind of immigration reform to be effective, immigrants must be able to have trust in the very system designed to serve them. (Immigrant communities are still reeling from the devastating effects of the recent Special Alien Registration in which thousands of Moslem men were arrested and deported.) Eighteen years after the last major immigration reform in 1986 granted amnesty to seven million undocumented immigrants, there still remain 12 million immigrants in this country hoping for an opportunity to become citizens.

What are some of the things we can do to ensure real reform? If we want to take substantive steps toward change, we can start by speeding up the citizenship process, which remains notoriously slow.

Let’s ensure that people who are here have a right to have their voices represented in the halls of power. Let’s give legal immigrants the right to vote. The diversity of the undocumented community across the country matches that of the rest of Americans — people are here from the West Indies, Latin America, South and East Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern and Western Europe.

Indeed, immigrants have come to this country for centuries to make a better life for themselves and their families. The President’s “reform” plan, released ten months before Election Day, seems little more than a thinly-veiled effort to make political inroads with immigrant communities nationwide.

We can do more. We can improve the lives of immigrants. Clearly, what is needed is a comprehensive immigration reform package that includes an overhaul of the US immigration agencies, a clear path to legalization, labor rights protection and a family reunification component.

But we need a serious, substantive discussion on the topic — not election year gimmickry.