Changing the Immigration System for Immediate Improvement

By Rinku Sen Feb 12, 2009

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the Migration Policy Institute’s list of 36 recommendations on immigration policy that the Obama Administration can and should take up. These changes – stopping to reassess the border fence and ending the criminal prosecution of undocumented immigrants, among others – would give the federal government a chance to look at the actual effectiveness of its enforcement mechanisms. That pragmatism would be a great improvement over the ideologically-driven measures that immigration restrictionists have successfully pushed for the last eight years. The country could stop wasting both resources and human rights credentials in silly projects that distract us from focusing on more serious problems, like human trafficking (and I’m not talking about parents bringing their kids over the border) and terrorism. The report also recommends a number of changes that would bring due process to the immigration system, including steps that prevent indefinite, unlawful and unsafe detention of migrants. These are mostly administrative, bureaucratic changes, but they will provide relief to real human beings who are now having their border communities torn up by fence construction, being separated from their families, rounded up in raids, and held in detention centers where people are dying. One of the things we should assess is how much these practices generate racial profiling. MPI advises that the government not force employers to fire people whose social security numbers don’t match up to a central database (E-Verify) that is known to be full of mistakes. E-Verify is guaranteed to put thousands of legal immigrants and citizens out of work. I heard a story last week of someone whose numbers didn’t match because of system error. It took ten months for the system to clear up the mistake. As we try to stimulate our economy by getting people working so that they can spend money and pay taxes, programs like E-Verify hold things up for no good reason. Sadly, conservatives managed to get E-Verify into the House version of the stimulus bill. As I argue in The Accidental American, we have to work up a new economic model that is locally grounded while globally connected, and we can’t do that without embracing the immigrants who work in that economy, regardless of their status. These good ideas can bring a little bit of sanity to the immigration process. The MPI report focuses on things the Administration can do without Congressional approval because Congress is a mess on this issue, even with a Democratic majority. It’s unlikely that the Obama Administration, with enforcement-oriented Janet Napolitano at the helm of Homeland Security, will adopt most of them unless they hear from the call from US residents who aren’t ideologically tied to pushing out immigrants. Conservatives say that they only oppose undocumented immigration, but people on both sides of the debate know that the line between those with papers and without is very thin, that families and communities hold both, and that policies directed at undocumented immigrants inevitably affect the documented too.