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Building New Immigration And Migration Policies For A New Era

by Oscar Chacn and Amy Shannon

Immigrant populations represent an invaluable asset for the United States of America, bringing an unparalleled cultural richness and economic agility. Unfortunately, political forces motivated by racist and xenophobic hate have managed to dominate the political and legislative debate on immigrants and immigration policy. Consequently, public attitudes about immigrants, as well as policy changes that have occurred since at least 1996 have centered around a punitive approach towards immigrants, as well as a restrictive approach towards immigration. Neither of these strategies is leading our nation to desirable outcomes. Nor are they equipping the country with the best policy solutions to reconcile our social, economic and political interests at the nexus between migration and the nation's future.

The best way to bring equilibrium between economic demands for foreign-born workers and legitimate demands for a better quality of life for people in the United States, will be to tackle migration in a two-pronged manner: First, we must develop a more realistic immigration policy that recognizes the primarily positive nature of migrants and migration and, consequently, embraces immigrants as an asset for the progress and well-being of the United States of America. Second, we should develop and promote an international economic policy model that emphasizes social investments and human development, and makes a major investment in the development and consolidation of micro, small and medium-sized rural and urban enterprises. Several proposals for bringing this change in our immigrant and immigration policy are as follows:

Substantially Elevate the Social and Economic Standards of Living in Migrant-Sending Countries
We must engage in a thorough revamping of our economic and development policies, with the urgent goal of substantially elevating social and economic standards of living in migrant-sending countries. We must also significantly reduce the current asymmetries between the United States and its neighbors in the South.

Modify the Trade and Development Policies the United States Has Pursued in Latin America
American development assistance policies should support strengthening local economies and laying the groundwork for long-term, sustainable development. We should give priority to building strong local and regional markets and environmental sustainability in Latin American countries through revision of American subsidies to agricultural production.

Immediately Halt All Immigration-Related Workplace and Residential Raids
The incoming U.S. President should immediately halt all immigration-related workplace and residential raids, as well as the deportation of all immigrants whose only crime is to have been residing and/or working in the United States without immigration status.

Create Pathways to Legal Permanent Residency and Citizenship
The incoming President should then work with Congress to grant the opportunity to people who are residing in the United States without the proper authorization to become legal permanent residents. Anyone who, having been given this opportunity, decides to remain outside the margin of the law, should be identified, investigated and if proven to be a threat, deported from the United States.

Fast-Track to Permanent Residency Every Relative of a U.S. Citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident Who Has Been Waiting More than a Year
A maximum six-month limit should be mandatory for all immigration benefits applications. Family unity should remain a central consideration in our overall immigration policy. We must correct, once and for all, the long, painful waiting periods that break up immigrant families.

Create a National Immigrant Integration Program
A national immigrant integration program should be created with the purpose of supporting immigrants and local communities to fully integrate newcomers harmoniously into the social, economic, cultural and political fabric of our nation. An integration program should include efforts to stimulate local dialogue and cultural exchange, civic participation programs, youth programs-including efforts to increase educational success-and workforce development programs.

Create a Foreign Worker Program to Match Available Workers outside the United States with U.S. Labor Market Needs
A foreign worker program should be created, which would enable foreign workers to come in with equal labor rights to those of U.S. citizens and residents. The practice of outsourcing temporary worker recruitment should be ceased. Any temporary worker program should be administered directly by the sending and receiving governments.

Strengthen Humanitarian Protection Programs for Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Humanitarian protection programs for refugees and asylum seekers should be strengthened in line with the highest international standards. The United States must reclaim its role as a beacon of hope for those requiring humanitarian protection.

Establish Minimum Standards of Treatment for Migrants in Sending, Receiving and Transit Countries
We should work across borders to establish minimum standards of treatment for migrants. These standards should be based on the principles of respect for human rights and human dignity. Migration should be decriminalized in all countries as a first step toward reducing the extreme vulnerability of migrants to exploitation and abuse.

Migration is not an exclusively American phenomenon. It is a challenge for many nations around the world. As a nation that prides itself on being a nation of immigrants, we have an opportunity to design a coherent set of best practices that can serve as a model for other nations. Policy proposals like these are the best means to ensure the national security of the United States in a way that is humane, efficient and effective. Before this can happen, however, the American people must take back this debate from those who want us to embrace fear and hate as the way of the future. This proud nation of immigrants needs its citizens to reclaim the best traditions of our nation and to build a better America for all.

Will the incoming President have the will to provide leadership on this issue? In the face of the economic downturn brewing over the past decade or so, there is an imminent danger to sink even lower in the trap of blaming foreigners for the hardships affecting us all. Given how complex our national debate on immigrants and immigration has become, it will be imperative for the incoming President to provide economically and morally sound leadership on how best to resolve this public policy challenge.

About The Author

Oscar Chacon is the director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities. He is one of the contributing authors to the just-released Mandate for Change: Policies and Leadership for 2009 and Beyond (Lexington Books).

Amy Shannon was formerly with Enlaces Americas and one of the contributing authors to the just-released Mandate for Change: Policies and Leadership for 2009 and Beyond (Lexington Books).

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.