Back to All Commentary

Op-Ed: Immigration Reform – Justice and Common Sense: No Human Being is Illegal (Poughkeepsie Journal)

By Linda Berns Americans across the political spectrum agree that our nation’s immigration system is broken. In New York State, up to one million undocumented immigrants are trapped in a system that makes it nearly impossible to attain lawful status, even if they have lived here since they were children, paid taxes and have children who are American citizens. This causes a human rights crisis in our region, state and across the United States immigrants’ homes are raided; hundreds of thousands of people are detained, some indefinitely, in inhumane conditions; and unscrupulous employers prey on the undocumented. The broken immigration system has divided Lower Hudson Valley communities, increasing racial tensions and generating unnecessary anger. President Obama has declared his “unwavering” commitment to fixing the immigration system. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the U.S. Senate’s immigration subcommittee, has pledged to introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year. New Yorkers must inform Schumer that workable reform would protect everyone’s civil rights and liberties. We cannot afford to get this wrong. Local residents should contact U.S. Reps. John Hall, D-19th District, Scott Murphy, D-20th District, and Maurice Hinchey, D-22nd District, and encourage them to support responsible reform. Workable reform will:

  • Provide a realistic path to citizenship. The status quo has created a permanent underclass. Keeping millions of people in the shadows is not in the moral, economic or security interests of New York or our nation. It is impractical and immoral to tear apart families by rounding up and deporting millions of people. Besides, immigrants pay taxes and contribute enormously to our economy. For example, a recent study by the Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress found that legalization of undocumented immigrants would generate between $4.5 billion and $5.4 billion in tax revenues over three years.
  • Restore due process, judicial review and fairness to the immigration system. The U.S. Constitution guarantees every person due process under the law—regardless of their immigration status. Current immigration law prevents judges from considering the facts of individual cases before imprisoning people, sometimes for years, without hearings or access to lawyers or their families. When we deprive the vulnerable of due process and equal protection, we erode these constitutional protections for everyone.
  • Treat immigrants in detention centers humanely. Our country detains nearly 300,000 immigrants a year, many in appalling conditions, without access to medical care. The Orange County Jail, which housed more than 100 immigrants per day last year, received a “deficient” rating from federal inspectors in both 2008 and 2009. Nobody should be treated inhumanely or denied basic medical care while in U.S. custody. This is not what America is about.
  • Reject backdoor attempts to establish a national ID card. Senator Schumer has proposed requiring all workers, citizens as well as immigrants, to carry an ID card containing biometric data, such as their fingerprints or iris scans. This system would endanger everyone’s privacy by enabling the government to electronically track our daily activities, and potentially lead to a national ID system- a concept that we have traditionally opposed throughout our nation’s history. What’s more, the government should not hinder people’s ability to work, especially in the current economy.
  • End local enforcement of immigration laws. Under presidents Bush and Obama, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has increasingly delegated immigration enforcement to local police departments through the 287(g) program. Brewster in Putnam County and Suffern in Rockland County have expressed interest in the program. Local enforcement wastes scarce resources, and distracts police from investigating real crimes and responding to emergencies. This month, a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspector general found that local police who enforce federal immigration law are inadequately trained or supervised and that they often violate the rights of immigrants they encounter.

We cannot sit idly while a broken immigration system tears apart families, including LGBT families, and deprives millions of people of basic rights. Congress must adopt practical solutions to fix our immigration system and uphold our nation’s values. All Americans’ rights and liberties are at stake. Linda Berns is director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union