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Imagine, for a second, that you were born in a poor country. Imagine growing up hungry, your family barely making enough to survive. Imagine living life in constant fear of drug lords, of stray bullets on your way home — imagine growing up thinking you might never see better days in your life. So you think about applying to become a U.S. citizen.
Then you discover that it could take nine years.
This is the problem that many immigrants are up against: wait indefinitely and do it legally, or take the risk and immigrate illegally. Getting into the U.S. legally without any family here requires temporary residency (or holding a green card) of five years before even applying for the real thing — and getting a green card could take up to four years, assuming you can actually find a job through the government certification process. Oh, and make sure you have $420 to $580 dollars on hand for the initial application.
It doesn’t take a legal analyst to see that our system needs to change. A number of proposals have come up in Washington to address the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in our country, more than 8 million of which are from Mexico or Central America — but can anything pass the deadlocked Congress? And will the Republican focus on “appealing to Hispanics” move us toward progress? First, let’s look at what’s been happening recently.
What are politicians proposing?
The immigration debate has been bouncing around ever since the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act in June 2013, which aimed to increase border security and give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. That new process would grant a 10 year provisional resident status to those that were here before the end of 2011, provided they pay $500 and have no felonies. The Act also aimed to give high-school graduates who were brought to the U.S. before age 16 a similar path to citizenship, as the never-passed DREAM Act of 2011 would have.
Because of the DREAM Act’s failure, President Obama announced an executive order to stop deporting these immigrants in 2012, and due to lack of action in the House of Representatives, Obama announced an executive order in November to stop deporting immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Theoretically, these immigrants would then be able to go through our still time-consuming legal process — but it’s better than being deported.
Of course, Congressional Republicans opposed the move, and officials in 17 states have now signed on to sue Obama for his actions.
But presidents have bypassed Congress before.
In 1986, President Reagan signed a bill that gave a path to citizenship (or as immigration opponents like to say, amnesty) to 3 million immigrants, and he acted on his own to further protect children of immigrants from deportation. George H.W. Bush added a rule to protect undocumented family members of legal immigrants — also without Congress. Obama’s executive orders are by no means out of line — we’d do well to remember that once upon a time, Lincoln stood up and declared the slaves free himself, and we see that executive action as heroic.
Somehow, Republicans are still trying to win over Hispanics.
Despite the constant blockage of immigration reform bills, Republicans realize that they need to appeal to Hispanics — not out of the goodness of their hearts, but to win elections. The 53 million Hispanics in the country are a large voting block, and the numbers are only going to grow.
Republicans seem to think that their issue with Hispanic voters is that people are simply focusing too much on immigration. If Hispanics heard them “fully,” as Karl Rove put it — that is, if Republicans could just change the conversation — then they’d win some votes.
But let’s be real, here.
While it’s clear that immigration isn’t all Hispanic voters care about (a Pew study notes that education, the economy and health care all rank higher), it’s also clear that Democrats are the only ones who have made any real moves on all four issues in this era of the do-nothing Congress. And with a Republican majority in both houses, we need to realize: the only way for Republicans to “appeal to Hispanics” is to work with the Democrats.
Or at least act like them. Acting like immigration reform is the GOP’s big problem ignores the blatant demonization and racism that Republicans have thrown at Hispanics — Congressman Steve King recently referred to an undocumented Hispanic immigrant guest at the State of the Union as a “deportable”, and before that he characterized some Hispanic immigrants as drug smugglers with “calves the size of cantaloupes”. Governor Jan Brewer insisted on treating immigrants in Arizona like intruders in some kind of crazy police state when she passed a law called SB 1070, which enabled law enforcement to stop any person they suspected to be an undocumented immigrant. In other words, police could ask any “Hispanic-looking” person to show their papers. Last summer, Tea Party-esque protesters in California literally blocked the passage of three border patrol-bound buses full of undocumented children who came across the Mexican border, amid chants of “Impeach Obama!” and “Deport, deport!”.
For politicians to “appeal to Hispanics,” they need to act like they care.
At its base, the immigration issue isn’t about who can pass laws. It isn’t about who gets votes. It’s about whether we, as a nation, care about our creed from so long ago: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” If we really mean those words engraved on the Statue of Liberty, we need to have compassion for undocumented immigrants. Yes, they’ve broken our flawed and drawn-out immigration laws, but what is law to a person who has no other option than to risk their life by coming here? There is no such thing as law for someone whose life depends on the American dream, and if we remember our own immigrant roots, we must have respect for theirs. And in the coming years, we must support politicians who share that respect — only then will we get a true solution to our immigration problem. If you have questions about immigration and apostille services, you may visit this online apostille services for more info.
Contact Opinion Section Editor Ellis Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.