RD to immigration advocates: are there any limits?

Original Reporting | By Craig Gurian |

Dec. 7, 2011 — Offered the opportunity to describe how immigration to the United States should ideally be regulated, representatives of three prominent pro-immigration organizations painted a broad picture of a much-liberalized ongoing system (above and beyond a “road to legalization”), but did not set forth any concrete limitations to apply.

In conversations ranging from 45 minutes to over a hour, the advocates spoke eloquently about problems plaguing the current system — including a lack of due process and unnecessary detentions — but were strikingly less forthcoming when it came to:

  • putting numbers to their proposals;
  • discussing what, in their views, would ever constitute acceptable enforcement;
  • describing why, if at all, their current arguments would cease to apply after a one-time mass legalization; and
  • providing guidance on how those who come from countries that traditionally have not had significant immigration to the U.S. could be treated in a more welcoming way if the system continued, as all wished it to, continued to treat principle of family unification as a cornerstone.


 A different starting point

Remapping Debate spoke separately with Catherine Tactaquin, executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Oakland, Calif., Jackie Esposito, director of immigration advocacy of the New York Immigration Coalition in Manhattan, and with Clarissa Martinez-de-Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns of the National Council of La Raza in Washington.

Remapping Debate pursued a point of interest to many of those open to a one-time mass legalization of those already in the U.S. — what about next time?

In each case, the discussion was premised on the fact that most immigrants, regardless of status, are, like most non-immigrants, hard-working people who care deeply about their families and who simply want to be able to make their way in the world.

A second starting point was the fact that most immigrants — again, like most non-immigrants — are, except for the civil violation that arises from being in the U.S. without legal status, entirely law-abiding. Questions of national security, which involve a minutely small percentage of immigrants, were put to the side.

A final starting point was that the road to legalization — which each organization seeks in the short-term and which would potentially adjust the status of the more than 10 million undocumented individuals currently in the U.S. — did not answer the question of what the ongoing rules of the immigration process should be. 


Family unification and employment-based immigration

Each organization is strongly committed to immigration being permitted for reasons of family unification or reunification in the U.S., not in the country or origin, as a central principle.

Tactaquin explained that “the trend at the international level is for there not to be family-based immigration,” but only employment-based or otherwise temporary immigration. She said that “there is a lot of pressure on the U.S. to reexamine” family-based immigration. Nevertheless, she added, “I think we’re still ok and holding on to family-based immigration.” Esposito, too, highlighted her Coalition’s desire to “make sure that family reunification is included in any reform package.”

On the issue of employment-based immigration, the organizations diverged. Both Esposito of the Coalition and Martinez-de-Castro of La Raza wholeheartedly endorsed this channel of immigration, with Martinez-de-Castro highlighting the importance of being responsive “to the needs of the economy” and to avoid “undermining the conditions of U.S. workers,” and Esposito focusing on increasing the “legal ways for people to come here from all different types of skill [backgrounds], not just highly-skilled workers.”

The global equation

Each advocate made clear the fact that looking at only of the domestic side of the immigration equation does not provide the full context for a comprehensive examination of issues associated with migration. As Martinez-de-Castro put it, there is a need to look at the “push factors” that propel global migration: poor conditions in other countries which often give rise to what Tactaquin called emigration as “an act of desperation for economic and civic survival.” With that caveat, the conversations we had did limit themselves to the domestic side of the picture.

Send a letter to the editor