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Time to fix immigration system, Campos says

David Campos, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, states that now is the time to fix the immigration system.

After more than a year of campaigning, President Obama finally won much-needed and long-overdue changes to our health care system. Achieving what four other presidents could not, Obama broke through the political impasse to obtain health care coverage for the vast majority of uninsured Americans. The president now needs to take this mandate and act quickly on what should be the next major item on his domestic agenda: modernizing our immigration system.

Comprehensive immigration reform requires a balanced and measured approach that includes a broad legalization component, a foreign policy that promotes meaningful and equitable economic development in the region, and humane enforcement measures that strengthen, rather than divide, local communities.

Right now, more than 12 million people live under the shadow of fear because they lack legal immigration status. Many are hardworking mothers and fathers who, rather than watch their families suffer under the brutality of poverty and political turmoil, made the difficult and often dangerous decision to leave their homeland in search of the American dream. Many are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who fled death threats and persecution, or whose same-sex partners lack the legal right to file a petition on their behalf.

Even though many undocumented immigrants pay taxes, contribute to our economic and social advancement and want to be fully integrated into our society, the dread of deportation makes civic engagement a risky endeavor for them. Perhaps most importantly, they fear reporting crime in their neighborhoods or mistreatment in the workplace, making all of us less safe and causing labor standards to sink across the board.

A broad legalization program would be good for the economy. According to research from the Migration Policy Institute, as our country has become more educated, our share of native-born low-skilled workers has fallen significantly. That is why immigrant workers have become such a needed and ready source of labor for various industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, and building-cleaning and maintenance, just to name a few.

The blueprint set forth by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham on March 18 (”Marchers hoping to focus attention on immigration,” March 21) prioritizes curbing unauthorized immigration as a primary function of immigration reform. They focus on increased militarization and security measures at the border and in the interior of the country. While I recognize that we have a right and obligation to protect our borders and that any comprehensive immigration reform package must contain some enforcement provisions, enforcement has its limitations.

For one, increased enforcement has not been the panacea many thought it would be. Even though border-enforcement spending has tripled since 1993, it has failed to deter significant numbers of unauthorized migrants from attempting entry. This is because illegal-immigration patterns are largely the result of macroeconomic needs in our economy as well as macroeconomic changes in the economies of immigrants’ home countries. In other words, no wall, military force or barbed wire will stop people from attempting to cross the border if staying behind is tantamount to misery, despair or even death. Thus, in addition to enforcement, we need a foreign policy that promotes meaningful and equitable economic opportunities for all.

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