Last week, announcement of the long-awaited immigration reform bill by the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Eight was overshadowed by the Boston Marathon bombing. Shortly after the official press conference announcing the proposal, some sought to tie terrorism into the immigration debate. On Friday, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said
“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system. While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”
As events unfolded on Friday, we learned that the Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were brought to the country legally as children. These young men grew up in the United States. Dzhokhar was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2012. The older brother, Tamerlan, even married a U.S. citizen and is the father of a young child.
April 10, 2013 - Washington, DC, USA - Washington DC. ''Thousands of immigrants, their families and supporters gathered in front of the US Capitol to demand Congress act now and pass immigration reform legislation to help clear the way for a path to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. (Credit Image: © Miguel Juarez Lugo/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Despite suggestions that immigration reform may lead to more acts of terror, the bill currently being debated actually strengthens the system by tracking visa entries and exits, requiring the undocumented to undergo background checks, and adding $6.5 billion for more border security. Note, the bill’s official name is the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. Border crossings are at a 40 year low and currently the southern United States border is considered to be more secure than ever. Despite multiple security measures, sometimes folks come to the U.S. with the intent to harm, and other times, terror plots are developed by people already within our borders.
While some lawmakers are focusing on isolated cases of immigrants implicated in terrorism, it’s important to look at migration as a whole. Overall, immigration is a positive experience and fuels the U.S. economy. According to a 2010 report by the Brookings Institution, immigrants raise the overall standard of living of American workers by boosting wages and lowering prices. For instance, low-skilled laborers allow U.S. born laborers to expand their businesses, which in turn expand employment opportunities and income for U.S. workers. Additionally immigrants with less formal education tend to perform services like child care, gardening and household cleaning, which become more affordable to American families who hire this kind of help.
While immigration can help add to the economy, the Senate bill has the potential to improve the lives of many women. Female immigrants are more likely to start businesses than their American-born counterparts, and immigrant women comprise more than half of all immigrants. The data also shows that immigrant women tend to embrace citizenship (up to 84% expressing a desire to become a U.S. citizen).
The new immigration bill does some things that would ease the situation for families, too, by making it easier for children who have aged out of petitions (those who have turned 21 while waiting in line for a visa) to get credit for the time they have waited instead of being shuffled to the back of the line. Orphans and widowed spouses of U.S. citizens who were deported could be considered for adjusting their immigration status. A new family visa will be created for families that have members who are waiting for their green card, but the definition of family narrows in the new bill to exclude adult married children and siblings.
Finally, the immigration bill, if enacted, would bring millions of women out of the shadow economy, which will provide a layer of protection from workplace abuse. Undocumented women are especially prone to workplace abuse. And more women would be able access healthcare once legalized – however, during the 10-year wait on the pathway to citizenship, none of these immigrants, who are currently unauthorized, could access public benefits or Obamacare.
While terrorism may be a concern in immigration policy, let’s remember that these events are merely a sidebar debate, and overall, the United States benefits from immigration, and the new bill will ease the lives of millions already in our country.
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