It is time for comprehensive immigration reform
By Gary Maring
Luther Place has a long history of assisting immigrants coming to the U.S. From 1970-1990, Luther Place joined with the Jewish community to advocate for release of Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate. In the 1980s Luther Place provided sanctuary for refugees who came to the U.S. from Central America to escape persecution at home and seek new opportunity here; our government was slow to respond to such crises so churches such as Luther Place stepped in to meet humanitarian needs of immigrants. Again the church must step up today to advocate for fair treatment of immigrants who have so enriched our country over the centuries.
Biblically we are called to have special concern for the alien among us. Leviticus 19: 33-34 says, “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” This suggests to me, that in the case of immigration reform, biblical justice precepts demand that we in the faith communities rise above the current political fray regarding immigration reform. Justice requires us to offer a compassionate process of integration for those who have come with a pure purpose of providing a better life for their families. Justice is not amnesty as opponents claim; rather justice involves building a bridge where the undocumented can qualify over time through a strict regimen of immigration requirements and begin a process of fully embracing the American dream.
There are many economic and social reasons why the U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform. America has a long and rich heritage of immigration and comprehensive reform is essential to continue the tradition of innovation that immigrants have brought to the American economy and culture. Legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost the nation’s economy and increase tax revenues. U.S. employers need a legalized workforce. Nearly half of agricultural workers, 17 percent of construction workers, and 12 percent of food preparation workers nationwide lack legal immigration status. But business owners—from farmers to hotel chain owners—benefit from reliable and skilled laborers, and a legalization program would ensure that they have them.
The social imperative is just as important. More than 5,000 children whose parents are undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. foster care system, because their parents have either been detained by immigration officials or deported and unable to reunite with their children. A path to citizenship unites families. It would also help families access health care. About a quarter of families where at least one parent is an undocumented immigrant are uninsured, but undocumented immigrants do not qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, leaving them dependent on so-called safety net hospitals that will see their funding reduced as health care reforms are implemented. Without being able to apply for legal status and gain health care coverage, the health care options for undocumented immigrants and their families will shrink. Further, passing the DREAM Act at the Federal level is important in order to formalize and make permanent in legislation what President Obama did administratively in 2012 that put 2.1 million young people on a beginning pathway to legal status, providing certainty and opportunity in their lives and also potentially adding billions of dollars to the American economy over the next two decades.
Also, significant reform of the high-skilled immigration system would benefit certain industries that require high-skilled workers. Immigrants make up nearly 25% of the labor force in high-tech manufacturing and information technology industries. In recent years, immigrant entrepreneurs were responsible for more than one in four new U.S. businesses. Additionally, immigrant businesses employ one in every 10 people working for private companies. Reforms that enhance legal immigration channels for high-skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs while protecting American workers and placing all high-skilled workers on a level playing field will promote economic growth, innovation, and workforce stability in the United States.