Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

A Blue Solution to Immigration

By Woojin ChoiPublished October 21, 2014

Although both Democrats and Republicans have yet to implement a comprehensive immigration reform, both sides are constantly being pushed by the clamoring public to make some kind of change. One thing is clear: immigration reform will happen, sooner or later. The question is: which side of the approach do we take?

By Woojin Choi, 10/21/2014

A national Politico poll reported that comprehensive immigration reform enjoys broad bipartisan support: 64% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats. It seems, then, that such reform is widely popular and will eventually become reality. Happy ending? Not quite. The fact of the matter is that although we can generally agree that we need some kind of change, we're not sure on what this change is to look like. Not surprisingly, this creates another opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to quarrel over and in turn, two vastly different approaches naturally arise.

What's evident is that the GOP's nativist utopia won't work. Conservatives argue that in order to preserve law and order, the 11 million illegal aliens must be expelled. As John Boehner said, the U.S. must stop "giving false hope to their children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay." This would prove to be extremely inefficient and impractical because undocumented immigrants are spread throughout the country, risking their lives to avoid border patrol officials. Put more simply, such an approach is undoubtedly impossible.

However, I'm not arguing that we open our borders and our arms to all tens of thousands of immigrants ready to cross the border. Of course, illegally crossing U.S. borders is be a crime and anyone caught doing so should be apprehended. As Biden said to a crowd in Guatemala City the other day, "It will not be open arms. We're going to hear holding with our judges, consistent with international law and American law, and we're going to send the vast majority of you back." At first glance, this might not seem to be so far off from what the GOP is presenting. In fact, I also have undue respect for law and order and I'm in full support combating illegal immigration, but the means for doing so must change.

As Biden said, the first step to the immigration crisis is discouraging would-be illegal immigrants. As with any problem, prevention is key. Along with this, border security should continue to be emphasized — more boots on the ground, enhanced investigative resources by the Department of Homeland Security's federal agents. The U.S. should also use some help from outside. The issue at hand isn't solely the failure of the U.S. to protect its border but also the struggle for Mexico to adequately address its own border problems. Therefore, an instrumental part of the immigration reform would be to coordinate with the Mexican government to augment law enforcement cooperation to disrupt "criminal flows" and enhance public safety.

What about the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.? First of all, the government should stop the indiscriminate deportation of illegal immigrants, 1,100 who are being deported daily, which includes criminals and families alike. What we really need are smarter enforcement measures that target convicted criminal immigrants in federal or state correctional facilities, allowing us to remove them from the U.S. at the end of their sentences without re-entering our communities. More troubling than breaching the rule of law is abandoning our commitment to providing freedom and opportunity to those who are willing to strive for it. Therefore, we shouldn't be afraid to grant amnesty to those who are working hard to make ends meet and would be separated by their U.S. citizen children by deportation. Specifically, we should lift the specter of deportation from hardworking young people who have potential to benefit our society.

Unfortunately, President Obama is slow to act on these promises and it's unlikely that he ever will. Latinos, weary with his failure to jump on this issue, might even feel betrayed by the Democratic Party. However, there's no need for realignment; a more powerful nudge will do.