The president called on Congress on Tuesday night in his State of the Union address to send him a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, “and I will sign it right away.” Maine’s congressional delegation should support legislation that curbs illegal entrants but also protects legal immigrants and provides a route for undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status.
Maine’s representatives aren’t likely to be the stumbling block, though. Even though a bipartisan group of senators has put forward an immigration reform plan that includes a pathway to earned citizenship, and the often-opposing sides of business and labor have called for immigration reform, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee in the House are hesitant to sign on. They should acknowledge that immigrants need improved incentives to enter the country legally; otherwise, as is currently the case, it can be quicker and easier to enter illegally.
There are clear economic and moral reasons to make changes to the country’s immigration system, and Maine stands to benefit. As the state and country grow older, more young workers will be needed to propel the economy. Low-skilled immigrants benefit the local economy when they purchase goods, and jobs are created when the country retains immigrants who are innovators.
Employers in Maine, for example, use the H1B visa program to hire temporary foreign employees for work in the state’s hospitals, scientific laboratories, universities and businesses. But the legal immigration system can be improved by reducing the backlogs in family and employment visa categories and by granting green cards to those who receive advanced degrees in subjects such as math, science, technology or engineering from an American university. We recognize the need to devise a way to ensure that businesses are hiring foreign workers to fill actual shortages.
Congress must change laws to better address the lives of immigrants who are in the country illegally. It’s widely understood that undocumented workers are not going to self-deport, so ignoring their existence while they continue to attend schools here, work and pay taxes, as many have done for decades, is inhumane and makes no practical sense.
There are different ways to reach common ground on how best to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. It is reasonable, as the bipartisan proposal suggests, to require illegal immigrants to register with the federal government and pass a background check before entering a probationary period. It’s understandable that they would settle their debt to society by paying a fine and back taxes and that they would not cut in front of those who already applied for lawful permanent residency. The bipartisan proposal would have the country address visa overstays and enhanced border security before granting green cards to those immigrants in probationary status.
Congress will recognize that most undocumented immigrants come to America in hope of finding work. So to reduce the number of future illegal immigrants, it will have to tackle the problem from the employer side, by creating a secure way for businesses to check whether new hires are authorized to work in this country. And we expect Congress will recognize the need to create frameworks that treat immigrants in different circumstances accordingly. So those who had no knowledge of the law when they came to the U.S. as children would face a different process to reach citizenship.
The ideas contained in the bipartisan proposal push the country in a good direction — toward a fair system that benefits families and local economies, while providing greater border security and creating an employment verification program to discourage employers from hiring workers lacking proof of legal residency. It will be up to House Republicans to recognize that rejecting immigrants runs counter to many of the principles on which the country was founded.