The time is ripe for immigration reform

It is a monumental undertaking that requires both parties to work together to remedy a broken system

President Obama’s second term is but weeks old and his “to-do” list is growing: reducing gun violence, managing the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration, raising the debt ceiling to pay the nation’s bills, and now, following his recent major address in Nevada last month, along comes comprehensive immigration reform and dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., including about 30,000 in New Hampshire.

Given the shifting national demographics and abundant head-scratching following the huge GOP losses in the 2012 elections, even reaching into New Hampshire, now is the right time for reform.

Immigration reform is a monumental undertaking, which requires both parties to work together to remedy our broken immigration system. President Obama’s plan for immigration reform is similar to the bipartisan Senate blueprint presented days earlier. Both plans focus on a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants along with overhauling major parts of our broken immigration system. As both parties warn, the U.S. is losing talent and professionals to other countries because of our antiquated restrictions.

The president's approach loosens outdated country quotas, promises to make the sluggish immigration system more efficient, calls on employers to verify that workers are in the U.S. legally, promotes family unity and opens the field for investors and innovators to have less arduous entry to the U.S.

These steps are good for America. They make us more competitive in the global economy and renew America's promise as the land of opportunity and protector of human rights.

To open a pathway to citizenship, both plans call for background checks, payment of a penalty and back taxes, learning English and getting in back of the line to obtain residency. Both plans estimate it will take eight years before new applicants will achieve permanent residency and another five years for citizenship.

Using the “back of the line” model, there are visas pending since 1992. Unless this system is fixed, the estimated eight-year wait could be much longer.

The GOP and the president differ on enforcement.

Since 2008, President Obama has deported about 1.5 million immigrants, about half of whom were dangerous criminals, which is more than under the administrations of President Clinton and President Bush combined. Unfortunately, some want to make the pathway to citizenship contingent on further border security. In other words, if the legislation is passed with this language, even if the undocumented immigrant has passed all the requirements to become a resident, the immigrant will have to wait until the border is sealed. Basically, the immigrant’s future is being held hostage.

The border cannot ever be 100 percent sealed off, despite unlimited use of surveillance drones, the National Guard, a 20-foot-high concrete fence and more border guards.

It is particularly curious to listen to some conservatives calling for reduced spending while at the same time pressing for more money for drones, a 2,000-mile fence, a militarized border and a ramped-up deportation machine, when current enforcement is working.

If the GOP wants to revive its image and win back the Latino vote, it needs to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform without insurmountable hoops. Surely, the GOP does not want to be seen as stalling as the 2014 elections approach. Ultimately, this proposed legislation will not only strengthen existing enforcement, but will offer 11 million undocumented hopefuls a share of the American Dream.

It could actually happen this time.

George Bruno, former U.S. ambassador to Belize and founding member of Americans by Choice, and Enrique Mesa are attorneys with LawServe, a Manchester-based immigration law firm.

Categories: Opinion