Column: Promote the American dream

By Matt Simmons

University students recently visited the office of Rep. Tim Johnson, R-15th, who must decide along with the rest of Congress how to address the perpetual conflict over immigration laws, to try to persuade him to support the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act over two other GOP-sponsored initiatives. The choice is simpler than it’s made out to be: representing bills that pander to xenophobia, serve big business, or support justice for immigrant workers and families.

The most ridiculous legislation on the table is the Enforcement First Immigration Act sponsored by Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz. This act would punish employers who hire undocumented workers, enact a moratorium on immigrant visas from Mexico and end automatic citizenship for babies born on U.S. soil. The main justification for the bill is that it would help improve our security due to the strict control of the border.

While the federal government should ensure our safety from terrorists who might try to sneak in through Mexico, these provisions will not help us achieve that goal. This bill would devastate attempts to unify families that have been broken by our immigration system, hinder legal immigration and make things a lot harder for the 10 million hard-working illegals that are already living in the country. This act is just another attempt by conservatives to capitalize on racist sentiments held by their constituents. How else would you explain the attempts to reduce legal immigration from Mexico? For a party that gets offended whenever they are called racist, they introduce a lot of legislation that are hostile toward ethnic minorities.

The next option is the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Unlike the previous proposal, mainstream conservatives might actually support this one. This bill contains some good security provisions such as 10,000 new boarder patrol agents and new checkpoints close to the borders. The law would also provide illegal residents the opportunity to work in the United States temporarily and allow for foreigners to come over as guest workers for as long as six years.

But this bill would exploit the guest worker program, take advantage of the foreign workers’ cheap labor and then kick them out of the country once they no longer prove useful. This bill does not provide any way for the temporary workers to achieve permanent residence, nor guarantee them minimum wage or other labor rights. If a temporary worker were unemployed for more than 30 days, he would lose his temporary worker status and must leave the country. Furthermore, to be eligible to work, illegal immigrants must go through a degrading process and acknowledge their unlawful presence in this country. Aren’t we supposed to reward hard-working people in America instead of treating them as disposable cheap labor?

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To add insult to injury, this bill would not do anything to reduce backlog for visas and help reunite splintered families. It is amazing that conservatives package themselves as defenders of family values when their actions show that they care more about pleasing the business community than keeping families intact.

The final and only acceptable option is the Secure American and Orderly Immigration Act sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The bill would give illegal residents the opportunity to gain full citizenship by working, paying taxes and learning English. More workers will be able to come in as temporary workers and given the option of full citizenship if they meet the requirements. Immigrants would also have similar labor rights as American citizens. Also, the quota on legal immigrants would be increased in countries where the backlog is keeping many families apart. This bill is by far the most family friendly of the three, and it still provides the business community with the labor it requires. This bill, coupled with measures from Congress addressing border security, would greatly improve our immigration situation.

It is time for Johnson and the Congress to overcome partisan squabbling and act to promote family values and the American Dream for everyone who’s willing to work hard for a better future.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected].