Do we enforce the letter of the law regarding people who have entered our country illegally, or do we compassionately assimilate undocumented peoples seeking a better life despite the laws they broke getting here in the first place?
Since the Gang of Eight bill was first passed in the Senate in 2013 – and later stalled in the House of Representatives – it’s safe to say that much has transpired both socially and politically.
Like any expression that is often used but seldom defined, what politicians and immigration advocates actually mean by Comprehensive Immigration Reform is up for interpretation, and is usually more rooted in political party and ideology rather than any agreed upon baseline policy measures.
Politically speaking, comprehensive immigration reform is perhaps the ultimate Catch 22. Do we enforce the letter of the law regarding people who have entered our country illegally, or do we compassionately assimilate undocumented peoples seeking a better life despite the laws they broke getting here in the first place? In America, the answer must be yes and yes.
President Trump has indicated that now is the time to once again pursue immigration reform and it’s critically important that the Hispanic Community assume a leading voice in the debate. In fact, I believe there are 5 essential policy points that must be included in any serious, comprehensive immigration reform bill that seeks to bridge the two sides’ seemingly incompatible goals.
1. Secure Border:
As a sovereign nation, the U.S. must reserve the right to determine who crosses our borders and who is allowed to stay. We must establish a clearly defined certification process that once satisfied, would enable those that are here in an undocumented capacity to have the opportunity to get permanently right with the law. In the meantime, improved border security and enforcement will help to disincentivize future migration surges as well as slow human and narcotics trafficking.
We should not simply allow the undocumented population to have a free pass, or amnesty, which would enable them to stay here in America ahead of people that are lawfully in line to immigrate to the United States. However, we understand that this large population will neither be deported, nor will most self-deport.
Therefore, we must legislate a process by which these people can admit to their wrongdoing, submit to and pass rigorous state and federal background checks, pay a fine to get right with the law, and prove their financial viability.
If they meet all these criteria, they would be able to stay legally as Guest Workers, but they will not be able to adjust their status to permanent resident or citizen unless and until all of the legal immigrant applications already in process have been adjudicated, (they would go to the end of the line for immigration purposes).
3. Guest Worker Visas:
Currently undocumented individuals should initially be able to adjust their status to that of a Guest Worker. They could choose to remain in the United States as Guest Workers indefinitely, so long as they passed the requirements as listed above, and remain current on their tax liabilities.
However, should they choose some day to pursue permanent residency or citizenship, they must pay additional fees, and would not be able to adjust their status unless and until all legal applications previously filed by aspiring immigrants are adjudicated.
4. Deport Serious Criminals
Any and all undocumented individuals engaged in nefarious activities such as murder, rape, assault, drug trafficking, and gang related activities should and must deported as expeditiously as possible.
However, a clear distinction must be made between these individuals and others who illegally obtained driver’s licenses, social security cards and other documents necessary for employment and basic survival.
The latter, with families raised in America and currently employed, should be protected from deportation as promised by President Trump in interviews with both 60 Minutes and TIME Magazine in addition to phone conferences we at the NHCLC have had with the transition team.
5. Integration process:
Newly legalized undocumented individuals must be encouraged to assimilate into the mainstream of American society. They must learn English, as well as American Civics.
As a nation of immigrants, we know that immigrants arrive in our country seeking opportunity and liberty. As long as these people obey the laws going forward, they must be treated fairly, and with the dignity that God has bestowed upon all people equally.
There will be some on both sides of this contentious debate that will disagree with me because I’ve either gone too far or not far enough.
As a leader in the Hispanic Community who is personally and professionally tied to this incredibly emotional issue, I have had to confront the simple truth that there are no easy answers – at least none that have a real chance of being passed into law. But if we honor the rule of law as well as the sanctity of all life, we can find a way forward together.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguezis president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement.”
Faith and Education Coalition is an initiative of the National Hispanic Christian Leaders Conference (NHCLC) and advocates for high-quality education options for all of America’s children.