Efforts to reform our current immigration system are likely to dominate congressional agenda for the next few months. To most objective observers from across the political spectrum, it is clear that our current system is outdated, flawed, and inefficient.
About 11 million people reside in the U.S. without legal status, most having been here for a decade or longer, living in fear of deportation and separation from their families. Our high-skilled visa system is hobbled by prolonged waiting periods that undermine our global competitiveness. And young people brought to the U.S. as children, raised and educated here, are unable to contribute their talents fully to our nation because of their undocumented status.
President Obama has made immigration reform his top priority in his second term, noting in his second Inaugural Address that, “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.”
Though Congress has been unable to pass big legislative items in recent years, the high level of public support and altered political dynamics make now an opportune time to enact a comprehensive immigration solution.
The demographics of our country are changing, with no clear racial or ethnic majority expected in the U.S. by 2043. Further, President Obama secured 71 percent of Latino voters and 73 percent of Asian American voters in 2012. These realities have weakened Republican opposition to reform.
Congressional leaders from both parties have agreed on the principles of reform and a “Gang of 8” Senators introduced a bipartisan bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Immigration reform is particularly important for Northern Virginia. Over 27 percent of the population in the 8th District is foreign-born. We are truly privileged to live in such a diverse and vibrant community. It is one of our greatest strengths.
Passage of immigration reform would boost our local economy even further by providing stability and opportunity to a broad spectrum of individuals, from highly-skilled immigrants in science and technology sectors to those who work in hourly wage service and construction occupations.
But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed. It will require the advocacy of an informed majority to push a bill through Congress.
To continue this conversation and gain valuable feedback from my constituents, I convened a community forum this week featuring a panel of experts who discussed flaws in our current system and answered questions about comprehensive reform legislation. Also joining me was Alexandria resident Gabrielle Jackson, who fled to the U.S. from Trinidad when she was 9 years old. Gabrielle now serves as a social worker, improving the lives of young people in our community. She is what’s known as a “dreamer,” children brought here through no fault of their own and raised as Americans. These young people are educated in our public schools, but are often excluded from continuing their education because they fail to qualify for affordable college tuition. This amounts to a wasted investment, both in the lives of these individuals and in the future economic productivity of our nation.
The DREAM Act would put these young adults on a path to citizenship. Though it passed the House in 2010, Senate Republicans filibustered the bill, blocking its enactment. In August of last year, President Obama announced that U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now process these “dreamers” for a two year, renewable deportation deferral and allow them to apply for a work permit. But this is not a long-term solution to finding permanent residency for this population that includes impressive young adults like Gabrielle. The DREAM Act must be included in any reform that is truly comprehensive.
I will continue my efforts in support of meaningful reform legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the country, strengthens border security and employment eligibility checks in the workplace, and adjusts future legal immigration levels to the needs of our economy.
We are a nation of constant transformation, continuously revitalized by immigrants who come to our shores to make a better life for themselves and their families. This influx of new people, new ideas, and new energy strengthens and enriches our society. Reform of our immigration system is necessary to make full use of the valuable contributions provided by immigrants.