US needs a permanent, comprehensive solution to the immigration issue

September 19, 2012 

The News Tribune’s recent series on the Northwest Detention Center and the immigrants affected highlights the confusing and complicated legal system, the difficulties in trying to comply with the system and the impacts on families.

The story of Oscar Estrada and his family illustrates some of the problems, but it also does not reflect the diversity of the immigrant population.

Here at Tacoma Community House, we have been serving immigrants for more than 100 years and are intimately aware of the many stories of immigrants, the challenges they face and the contributions they provide.

A wide variety of immigrants come through our doors – refugees fleeing persecution and war in Somalia and the Congo, legal immigrants from Korea and the Philippines sponsored by their family members, and those without documents from Mexico or Guatemala who may also be fleeing violence, seeking jobs and reconnecting with family.

They come to us to learn English, to find jobs to become U.S. citizens. They are your neighbors and co-workers, sitting next to you at church, serving you food at a restaurant, taking care of your elderly relatives. They are all seeking the American dream.

The U.S. needs a sensible immigration system, not the confusing and unmanageable situation we have today. A recent experience here at Tacoma Community House highlights the need for change.

The federal government recently issued a policy that allows young people who were brought here by their parents without documents to gain temporary legal status. These young people are called “DREAMers” after the DREAM Act legislation proposed in Congress.

Three weeks ago, we held a workshop for DREAMers, and more than 400 people showed up on a Saturday morning. Families came with binders full of report cards and commendation letters, the kinds of things all parents brag about and put on refrigerators.

Anibel and Amelia are two of those students. Anibel is a senior in high school, with good grades, and she wants to go to college. Amelia has graduated from high school and was enrolled at the University of Washington but had to drop out because she couldn’t afford it.

They are eligible for this temporary status, which will allow them to work and pay for tuition. (They still won’t be eligible for financial aid.) Anibel wants to be a social worker, and Amelia plans to become a doctor, so they can give back to their country – the United States.

Anibel and Amelia are OK for now. They can get temporary work authorization and a temporary Social Security card. But they can’t join the military, and the temporary cards are only good for two years.

We still need to change the laws so young people like Anibel and Amelia can come out of the shadows, get an education and contribute to the only country they know. There are more than 1 million young people in the U.S. like Anibel and Amelia who are eager to give back and just need that opportunity.

We need a system that provides clear employment rules, allows families to reunify, allows law-abiding youth and adults to stay legally, and protects our borders.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have proposed such a system, but it’s been lost in the partisan climate in Washington.

Congress has introduced bipartisan proposals in the past that would provide temporary visas for agricultural and high-demand workers, allow more family members to come, legalize status for those who have been in the United States for a long time and strengthen enforcement.

We urge everyone to contact their congressional representatives and advocate for a comprehensive solution that benefits us all.

Liz Dunbar is executive director of Tacoma Community House.

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