Viewpoint: Suozzi-King plan for immigration reform is spot on and long overdue

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Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Nassau) during a recent town hall held at Temple Beth-el of Great Neck spoke most eloquently and empathetically about the need for immigration reform, and just a few days later, announced he was crafting just such a bill with fellow Congressman Peter King (R-Suffolk).

A sign of how entrenched this problem is that he has been dealing with the issues of immigration for the past 25 years, dating from when he was mayor of Glen Cove.  “These are our kids, our community,” Suozzi said.

“The guys who used to stand on street corners waiting to be picked up for a day job now have their own business – contractors, landscapers – they own their houses, their kids went to school with my kids.”

He explained his rationale: “We are looking at difficult problems, but there are some basic fundamental principles: all men and women are created equal, not just those with a green card or a passport, and deserve to be treated with respect and human dignity…

“The federal government has dropped the ball for 40 years. There are people here for 30 years – some may be bad people but statistics prove that immigrants have lower commissions of crime than native-born… I’m all for securing the border, spending money to finally stop illegal immigration, but most are not coming from the southern border but overstay visas. We should spend money to secure the border, but I want something in return.”

And in a March 24 op-ed in The New York Times co-written with King, the two congressmen, one a Democrat, the other a Republican, noted how they arrived at their reform policy from different perspectives: Suozzi from the humanitarian/American values side, reminding that all but native Americans came as immigrants to this New World and immigrants have built this country; King from a border protection/national security point of view. And both are correct.

They propose a path to citizenship for the 1.9 million immigrants brought by their parents, without documentation when they were 18 or younger, the so-called Dreamers. To be eligible, they must have graduated from high school; have no record of criminal activity; and be either in the military, working full time for at least three years or attending college.

The 400,000 people who were invited to America and given temporary protective status after facing natural disasters, violence and extreme poverty in their home countries would also have a path to citizenship.

Relatives of Dreamers, TPS recipients and others who are undocumented —2.7 million more people — would be eligible for three years of protective status, renewable indefinitely, if they have been in the United States for a significant number of years and have no record of criminal activity.

Altogether, this accounts for 5 million people. To qualify for protection, an undocumented person would be required to pay a $2,000 fee, which if all 5 million of those eligible paid would generate $10 billion.

Of the $10 billion, $1.4 billion would go to administrating the program; $4.3 billion would pay for additional physical structures along the United States-Mexico border; and $4.3 billion would go to aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to help prevent further out-migration from those countries, as well as to radar technology, improved ports of entry, immigration judges, border patrol personnel and humanitarian assistance along the border.

“For far too long, many people living in our country have been living in fear, and many others have grown frustrated by the inaction of our elected officials,” they write in the op-ed. “The undocumented have lived in the shadows, facing the daily anxiety of potential deportation, even as they try to participate in our American communities…. We must stand together and pass legislation that will help secure our borders while giving undocumented immigrants a path to permanent residency without the fear that at any moment they may be deported.”

This is a very rational, commonsense approach and avoids the poison pill of insisting on citizenship for all 11 million undocumented individuals and the bogus charge of “amnesty”.

But the reality is that immigration reform is not that complicated. But like so many issues, it has become weaponized in power politics.

In the face of the obvious failure of Trump’s illegal, inhumane and ineffective policies, as demonstrated by the largest number of migrants in a decade, he is doubling down. Instead of increasing aid to alleviate those conditions, which are driving desperate people to seek asylum, Trump has ordered cuts of the $500 million in USAID funding to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which will only exacerbate the desperation forcing people to escape. President Obama initiated the aid in 2016, which had success in stemming the tide after a similar tsunami of asylum-seekers.

And the paper tyrant threatened to shut down the southern border for “as long as it takes” unless Mexico stops the flow, which would cut off $1.7 billion a day in commerce, harming the economies of both countries.

Imagine firing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw caging children and separating families, because she wasn’t cruel or criminal enough. She has resigned under apparent pressure.

The solution is not complicated: appoint actual judges to adjudicate asylum claims, provide the technology necessary to do background checks, send social workers and medical personnel to assess the health of migrants and provide appropriate services (as was done for the millions who entered through Ellis Island), provide appropriate housing and release people as soon as possible, with ankle bracelets if necessary, with some kind of work permit. Want to cut down on illegal drugs? Invest in technology in the U.S. mail system and ports of entry.

What do you think about immigration? Blank Slate Media is hosting a town hall on “The Politics of Immigration,” on Thursday, April 18, 7:30 p.m., at Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 48 Shelter Rock Road, Manhasset.

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