Monday, February 10, 2014

A time for action
            Recently, Republican leadership in the U. S. House of Representatives released a document titled “Standards for Immigration Reform” outlining a set of principles to guide their negotiations on the issue in 2014. 

Included in their framework are familiar ideas such as securing the nation’s border to the south, implementation of an entry-exit visa tracking system, employment verification and workforce enforcement of the law, a special plan for addressing the status of under aged youth brought to the United States by parents and a requirement that undocumented residents be willing to “come forward” and honestly address their current status.  A requirement embedded in the GOP plan would be the admission of a violation of the law by the undocumented, submission to rigorous background checks, the payment of fines and any back taxes, development of proficiency in both English and U. S. civics and the ability to support their families.  Finally the “Standards” state, “Criminal aliens, gang members, and sex offenders and those who do not meet the . . . requirements will not be eligible for this program. In addition, none of this can happen before specific enforcement triggers have been implemented to fulfill our promise to the American people that from hereon, our immigration laws will indeed be enforced.”     

This clear statement of the Republican position provided encouragement to those of us who have been working hard and clamoring frequently for Congress to take action to define, reform and pass comprehensive immigration reform that will benefit millions of our undocumented neighbors by providing them legal status and the protection and opportunity that they so richly deserve but presently do not enjoy. 

           Protection is essential because currently many of my undocumented friends work, study and serve without assurances provided by law or regulation.  As a result, workers are forced to live with the exploitation of unscrupulous employers who take advantage of their immigration status to underpay or, in some cases, to not pay for work performed.  Furthermore, in many of the most demanding work settings safety, human resources standards and fair labor practices are not simply neglected; they are largely ignored or completely dismissed. 

Dedicated, hardworking students complete degrees at our universities with absolutely no pathway to full employment.  Individuals and families are forced to live in what amounts to an underground society defined by limitations and the very real fear of deportation and separation from loved ones. 

I understand the fears of parents well thanks to the fact that for several years I’ve worked with a family whose son was deported to Mexico, even though he was brought to the United States as a very young child with no knowledge of immigration law.  Jose, now sent away to a village in central Mexico, knows nothing but his experience and self-understanding as an American. 
A city like Dallas would be hard pressed to function without the presence and labor of the undocumented, like Jose’s father.  Comprehensive reform would bring everyone into the light of day.  The overall local economy would benefit.  Our schools would improve dramatically, as now documented parents felt more confident in engaging with public schools.  Law enforcement, labor relations, business development, home ownership, community strength and enhanced social stability would improve the quality of life for us all in virtually every neighborhood in town.
Beyond the clear economic return to Dallas as a result of immigration reform, we need relief from the injustice and immorality of the current state of affairs that weighs on our city’s self-understanding, as well as its vision for a bright future.  No city aspiring to become a world-class community built on fundamental democratic ideals, the power and beauty of human diversity and the promise of a people’s innovation can achieve its goals when so many of its people cannot function as fully vested partners in the enterprise of hope and justice.

Unfortunately, the Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives has now come out to inform us that he will not take up any effort to enact reform this year.  Claiming that President Obama “cannot be trusted to enforce the law,” Speaker Boehner has decided no action is the proper approach to this pressing national problem.

Texas is special.  So much of our history, hope and heritage connect to families south of our boarder.  For generations the real immigrants to Texas, and more particularly to Dallas, have benefited greatly from this Latino connection.  The time has come, and is long past due, to honor our centuries old joint heritage.  Providing a way for our hard working, undocumented neighbors to more fully embrace our community, its opportunity and its promise makes sense for us all.  To fail again in addressing this clear and immediate challenge seems unthinkable. Clearly, it is time for action.

Larry James

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