There Is Still More to Be Done on Immigration Reform Bill

The momentum of commonsense, accountable immigration reform continues to grow. Today’s early morning announcement represents a key new step in fixing our broken immigration system – replacing it with one where we finally bring immigrants out of the shadows and maximize their contributions to Long Island and to America.

The introduction of the Senate’s immigration bill is an historic step toward humane policy reform. A bill that includes a real path to citizenship is a monumental achievement for our movement. We are confident that immigration reform that includes a clear and direct path to citizenship will pass this year.

This draft legislation is a good start. But we have to move this bill forward, even as we’re pushing our elected officials to improve it. Below are issues that we believe are central to an immigration bill that is comprehensive, humane and works for everyone.

Our fight for this reform is about keeping families together and providing a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants in this country. We cannot repeat the mistakes of 1986, which left us with 11 million Americans living in the shadows.

The cutoff date proposed in the draft legislation bill for people eligible for the path to citizenship is set for December 31, 2011. However, this requirement as it is laid out under the plan will leave hundreds of thousands of families out of the process and create all the same moral and practical problems with which we began. The date of enactment of the bill would be much more reasonable.

This bill is tough – the 13 years that immigrants must wait to apply for citizenship is unfair and far too long. All immigrant families deserve a chance to take part in the American dream within a reasonable amount of time.

In addition, the bill includes arbitrary and punitive triggers based on border enforcement measures. This should not stand in the way of immigrants applying for citizenship because our borders have never been more secure, and enough tax dollars have been spent on immigration enforcement over the past several years. Arbitrary immigration enforcement will end up tearing families apart.

The plan proposes to leave out siblings of U.S. citizens as well as LGBT families. This bill is supposed to be about bringing families back together, and this provision does nothing but further tear them apart.

The bill also calls for immigrants to prove that they have been steadily employed. This is not inclusive of all immigrants, as it leaves out many of those who work hard each and every day, including day laborers and domestic workers. This plan cannot be comprehensive unless it addresses everyone.

We must also ensure that the pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows is affordable. It is not practical or commonsense to overburden these prospective Americans with fines and fees when they are already struggling to make ends meet. Once our new Americans attain legal status, are paying taxes, and are on the path to citizenship, they should be able to access healthcare and other public benefits. If they are contributing to the system, they should be eligible.

The E-Verify provision can be problematic, as it has proven to be an expensive and error ridden system in the past. However, we will continue to push our elected officials to ensure that we reach an agreement that works for everyone.

We’re still learning the specifics of what’s in this proposal and there will be more to come in the days ahead. Like with any bill of this magnitude, there will be things to cheer, and things that need fixing. What’s not negotiable is that we finally replace our broken immigration system with one that lets immigrants earn a path to citizenship and honors family unification. Long Island and America will be better off when we do.

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