Immigrant Reform: a continental problem

14 Jul 2010 by Fausto Sicha, No Comments »

This article was published on:

Columbia Spectator (Columbia University Newspaper)

Vol. CXXXIV, No. 59, p 4

April 20, 2010

By: Fausto Sicha and Jennifer Hall

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Immigrant Reform: a continental problem

          Since President Obama came to power, he has not only continued the Bush administration’s immigration politics—things have gotten worse. The fact that the White House has not reformed immigration causes a feeling of deception in the 67 percent of Latinos who voted for Obama and in the 12 million immigrants in the United States who are waiting for immigration reform. In this article, we will describe how things for immigrants are worse under Obama. And, as a solution, we will offer five suggestions that we hope will win the support of the public, including some Republicans, in order to make immigration reform a reality. These suggestions might seem lofty, but we think it is time to act, and act big, especially when protests and hunger strikes don’t seem to be working.

          Obama’s initial popularity and his historic election, together with his promises of immigration reform, made Latinos believe that he would be the needed catalyst for change. However, since he has not kept his promises, it is up to us to take a more active role.

          While Congress decides who is going to lead immigrant reform, Latinos are feeling the effects of both the Bush and Obama initiatives. In 2009 the administration deported one person every 75 seconds and separated an average of 1,100 families each day. And since Obama took office, the government continues the “zero tolerance” policy for people who cross the Mexican border, and the “wall” between the U.S. and Mexico continues to grow. Obama has continued promoting periodic immigration status checks on people detained in the 3,100 local jails around the country and has asked for $200 million to identify who in jail should be deported.

          In 2007, Bush deported 259,000 immigrants. In 2008 the number rose to 304,000. Since Obama came into office, the numbers have increased! In 2009, the number of immigrants deported was 400,000. Clearly, Obama has not started the reform he promised.

          Many people do not support immigration reform because of the thousands of illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. every year. This has always been thought of as a U.S. problem. But we think it is clearly a continental problem.

          As the elections near, the Senate will become more bipartisan, which means that immigration reform will continue to be stalled in Congress. It is now up to us and the Democrats to try to do something. We cannot let the current administration forget its promises because there is not enough Republican support. Obama can propose other alternatives. Here are our suggestions: First, President Obama could hold a Latin American Summit where all the countries discuss the problem of immigration and ways to reduce it. This summit would serve to show that the White House is solidly behind immigration reform.

          Second, because of our weakened economy, the U.S. administration should help create employment in the local Latin American governments from which emigration occurs most often. This increase in jobs would reduce the bureaucracy and corruption in local government and reduce immigration into the U.S.

          Third, at the same time, the administration should give incentives to U.S. or Latin American companies to open manufacturing plants in the cities in Latin America where emigration is a problem. When there is more work in the cities where people live, there will be less migration to the U.S. to look for work.

          Fourth, we should redirect the economic incentives given to the Colombian military to eradicate social problems like drug trafficking and guerilla groups. These funds have expanded the problem from a regional to a national level. Instead, we should allow the funds to be used to uphold local laws and reinforce the judicial system in Latin America, thus creating social stability and local employment.

          Fifth, there should be a student exchange between the U.S. and Latin America whereby master’s students in the U.S. could assist the local governments in Latin America. These students could teach useful skills like English, computer skills, urban planning, and manufacturing. Architecture, business, and engineering students could show countries how to run more efficiently. In compensation for their services, the governments could give the students school credit for participation. If Latin American countries had more jobs and ran more efficiently, families would rely less on money sent from their U.S. relatives and would be less likely to emigrate.

          We strongly believe in these five solutions and think pursuing them would create positive change. Immigration is a continental problem. It is time to discuss the issue beyond the walls of Congress. Latin American governments need to promote education and government participation in order to decrease emigration. But here, in the U.S., it is also time to act. It is time to resolve the problems with Latin America. It is time for real immigration reform.

Jennifer Hall is a graduate student in the School of Social Work. Fausto Sicha earned a graduate degree from City University of New York in international politics.

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