This fall, members of Congress have a rare opportunity to reform and modernize the country’s failing immigration system — action that, if done properly, could change Illinois agriculture, education, business and job growth for the better.
The U.S. immigration system hasn’t undergone major reform since 1986 under President Ronald Reagan. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided a pathway to citizenship for 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. It also demanded more accountability from employers who knowingly hired workers without legal documentation.
Some decried the act as a failure; others considered it a success. An estimated 2.7 million people embarked on a path to citizenship after the law, but it didn’t completely stop illegal immigration.
In the 1970s there were an estimated 1 million undocumented immigrants in the country; today there are an estimated 11 million.
The U.S. Senate earlier this year approved, in a 68-32 vote, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. It’s now in the hands of the Republican-controlled House, which has only moved pieces of reform out of committees but has not addressed a comprehensive bill, despite pressure to do so by business and labor groups, reform organizations and citizens.
The bill would change the country’s border security at Mexico, nearly doubling the number of border agents from 21,000 to 40,000 and adding 700 miles of new fence. It also would establish a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented citizens living here — a process that would take 13 years to complete. Someone who starts the process when they are 20 years old wouldn’t become a citizen until they are 33.
Presumably, those 11 million new residents will begin paying more taxes and contributing in other ways to the American economy.
Closer to home, a recent study by the American Action Network, a conservative pro-reform group, shows immigration reform would create an estimated 14,000 jobs in each of central Illinois’ congressional districts, including Republican Rep. Rodney Davis’s 13th District and Republican Rep. Aaron Schock’s 18th District. The group relied on data from a Regional Economic Models, Inc., study of economic data and new worker visas, as well as a Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate bill’s effects to come up with the job estimates.
After 27 years, it’s time to overhaul the country’s immigration system to keep pace with the changing face and needs of America. Security has to be part of any solution to the problem, but so does a pathway to citizenship. There are more reasons than not to give those who want to be here a chance to better themselves and the United States in the process.