Monday, June 07, 2010

Fixing immigration: It won’t be easy to address this divisive issue, but we should at least dare to DREAM

June 5, 2010

In the slugfest that passes for our national conversation these days, immigration is the sorest subject of all. We all agree that the United States' laws need to be reformed. But how can we as a nation figure out what to do when we can't even discuss the subject in polite company?

The American Jewish Committee National Bridging America Project recently dared to hold that conversation, with the goal of finding common-sense middle ground on the subject. In Houston, the group convened a task force that represented business, education, law enforcement, health care, ethnic communities and religious groups. (A member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board also participated.) Their recommendations, published in last Sunday's Outlook section, strike us as good starting points for reform.

According to the task force, our immigration system should:

• • Strengthen border security in a way that protects people who live near the border. Remove criminals involved with drugs, violence and human trafficking.

• • Encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society. Require education in English and civics.

• • Protect all workers. Allow both temporary and permanent workers to enter the country legally and efficiently. Create tamper-proof IDs.

• • Make it a priority to keep families together.

• • Ensure that laws are enforced humanely. Make sure that detainees are treated with dignity and that they have recourse to reasonable due process.

• • Create a way for undocumented immigrants to earn legal status.

On that last point, the Bridging America committee took what's likely to be a very unpopular position in some quarters. But we agree with that stand: For both practical and humane reasons, the U.S. can't possibly deport every undocumented immigrant now inside our borders. Any real overhaul of our immigration policy has to recognize that fact.

But we also recognize that politically, the overhaul that we need may be impossible to achieve right now.

So in the spirit of finding even more middling middle ground, we support a narrower measure as well: the DREAM Act.

Proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would create a path to citizenship for children whose parents brought them to the United States when they were 15 or younger — provided that those kids have stayed out of trouble, graduated from high school, and will either enroll in college or enlist in the military.

These kids didn't choose to break a law when they entered the U.S.; they were doing what their parents told them. And now they've grown up here, with Algebra I, Lady Gaga and Domino's Pizza. In their parents' home countries, they'd feel like foreigners.

The DREAM Act would allow them to become full-fledged citizens — productive, patriotic taxpayers. And can't everyone agree that the U.S. needs more of those?

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