Yesterday the Obama administration announced plans to change the federal government’s detention policy of undocumented immigrants. Although a step in the right direction, recent policies from the White House and the Hill still do not go far enough, leaving out comprehensive immigration reform.
To be sure, Obama’s announced plan is an improvement, it will strengthen oversight, end the most rigid practices and centralize detention. Long criticized by civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups, federal detention the past few years has resulted in over 400,000 immigrants held annually in prisons and jails scattered across the country with little transparency. From a failure to provide adequate medical treatment, clothing and food, to the lack of access to lawyers, neglect and abuse caused the deaths of dozens of innocent individuals in custody.
But recent legislation only continue this troubled policy of detention and deportation, instead of providing a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The Obama plan still maintains detention. A Senate bill last month makes the voluntary ‘e-verify’ system permanent, allowing for employers to check the status of workers. While last week 88 conservative Democrats and Republicans in the House introduced an enforcement-only immigration bill.
And conservative right-wing groups are even injecting nativist rhetoric and anti-immigrant scare tactics into the health care reform debate.
Rep. Jeff Akin (R-MO) went so far as to falsely claim:
“If before we had trouble with people coming here illegally, if we give them free health insurance and health coverage that’s going to make it more attractive for them to come. So if you don’t like illegal immigration, then you’re not going to like this bill either…”
The truth is that providing a pathway to citizenship is the right approach to immigration, not to mention the most humane. Studies have shown that legalization of immigrants is a net benefit to our economy, even part of the answer to health care reform and the Baby Boomer crisis. All indications however point to reform legislation— good or bad— up for a vote by early next year, leaving millions to wait much longer in the shadows of our society or behind bars.