Wrecking a "nation of immigrants"

I received this piece from Fred Tsao at ICIRR, one of our member organizations- if you've written an op-ed, share it here.

"Wrecking a 'nation of immigrants' "By Fred Tsao, policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Published May 18, 2007

Both of my parents are immigrants from China. My mother later brought over my grandmother to care for my brother and me while she and my father both worked. When my father became a citizen, he sponsored my uncle to join him, and together they ran a restaurant in the St. Louis area. Through their work, my family was able to buy a house and save enough money to put my brother through pharmacy school and me through law school.My family's history illustrates why the United States is the most successful machine for immigrant integration in world history -- a machine that unfortunately the Bush administration now wants to wreck in the name of "immigration reform."

The secret to the success of the United States as a "nation of immigrants" can be summed up in three words: family, work and democracy. We have no large-scale government programs like Canada to assist immigrants in getting settled here -- that role is played by family. Our immigration system has incorporated the "conservative" notion that the family is the basic social unit in a stable society and has been based on the bedrock principle of family reunification. Immigrants arrive and go to work, knowing that with a lot of sweat, they and their children can live the American Dream. Much of the immigration debate has focused on restoring the rule of law with adequate enforcement at the border and workplace, and creating a path to earned citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants working in the shadows of our nation. A bipartisan group of senators and the White House reached an agreement on these issues Thursday, and we hope that the legislation will push the immigration-reform debate toward a fair and workable resolution in Congress later this year.Those of us who study U.S. immigration policy closely, from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to the Catholic Church, remain concerned that the proposed cure may slowly poison the patient.During the recent negotiations over immigration, the White House used the Democrats' desire to move undocumented immigrants toward legal status as leverage to push for a revamp of future immigration. The White House seeks to move away from family reunification and toward a point system that rewards wealth and education, discriminates against the humble and ignores the value of family ties. The agreement reached by the group of senators and the White House would eliminate the possibility for U.S. citizens to sponsor their brothers, sisters and adult children. So much for my father's ability to run a restaurant with his brother or my grandmother caring for the kids.

In addition, to meet our country's labor needs in a time of aging Baby Boomers and declining birth rates, the proposed deal would create an unworkable nightmare of a temporary-worker program. The immigration deal would grant two-year visas to workers who would not be allowed to earn permanent status or bring their families to the U.S. These workers can never dream the American Dream or hope to be full participants in our democracy. The United States will be moving from a "nation of immigrants" toward the South African model of worker hostels during the apartheid regime, or toward the French model of slums filled with millions of angry disenfranchised immigrant workers.

So while we salute the efforts of both parties to restore legality to our immigration system and a path to earned citizenship for the undocumented, we strongly encourage Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama to fight for families, for workers and for our democratic ideals of participation. Otherwise this "immigration reform" may well wreck the one part of our history as a nation of immigrants that we can be proudest of.