by Emily Gutzmer, Fellow at WACCT
On Tuesday, February 25th, Dana Bucin of Updike, Kelly, and Spellacy moderated a panel discussion and Q&A for a packed room of attendees on the need for immigration reform, with Tamar Jacoby from ImmigrationWorks USA and Michael Wishnie from the Yale Law School. Jacoby has been working to further political process on immigration in Washington, D.C., while Wishnie has helped immigrants and low-wage workers gain legal representation.
The speakers highlighted many of the problems with our current immigration system and the efforts towards reform. The basis of our legal system regarding immigration, Wishnie asserted, is rooted in laws from the 1950s, and we live now in a much different global environment. The lack of efficient and accessible legal avenues for immigration has led to the recent border crisis and approximately 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. Washington D.C. is, according to Jacoby, essentially “broken,” and, though she argued that, though members of the Republican Party has started shifting their positions, a comprehensive immigration package is simply too big to get through the door right now.
The main source of contention was differing views on President Obama’s executive action. Jacoby argued that these issues belong in Congress and in the courts and that the presidential administration essentially set a trap for Republicans. She argued that the Republican Party might have agreed on an immigration package, but the President’s independent action pushed them away and weakened the GOP’s stance. Wishnie, on the other hand, found the executive action to be “too little, too late.” In waiting so long, the President not only enforced bad laws in hopes of gaining political trust, but also will not see a program really take effect until the end of his administration.
The two speakers agreed that comprehensive immigration reform would have three crucial aspects: 1) a pathway for undocumented workers to become legal residents, 2) stronger enforcement of immigration law, and 3) a better legal system for bringing hard-working and entrepreneurial immigrants to the United States. It would also shift away from our outdated quota system to prioritize family unification and employment. Right now an individual sometimes has to wait between 15 and 20 years to reunite with a family member working in the United States, and last year along we turned away 90,000 high-skilled visa applications for prospective employees that U.S. businesses wanted to hire. They additionally highlighted the role Connecticut has played at the forefront of experimenting with reform, looking at new models for immigration enforcement and organization. This is helping to generate a new kind of conversation about immigration policy and to empower interaction at the local level. Jacoby concluded that, ultimately, it is a hopeful, given the role that partisanship has played in Washington, that she and Wishnie agreed on so many aspects of the need for immigration reform.
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