Blog & Updates
Support for Immigration Reform from “New” and “Old” Immigrant Destinations
June 17, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin
Rep. Lofgren at Reform Immigration FOR America Town Hall
Today, the editorial pages of the Sacramento Bee and the Tennessean in Nashville added their voices to the growing number of those calling for comprehensive immigration reform. With the President slated to meet with Congressional leaders on June 25 on immigration and how to move legislation forward this year, these papers in two very different types of immigrant gateway cities weighed in with support for reform that solves the problems we face regarding immigration.
Sacramento is an “old” immigration destination, with a nearly constant stream of immigrants flowing to its environs since at least the 1840s for jobs in the gold fields and more importantly, the agricultural fields of California’s Central Valley, the world’s most productive agricultural region. The Bee’s editorial, which was also run in the Bee’s sister paper in Merced, looks at how dysfunctional the current legal immigration system is and the role Californians will play in fixing it:
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the San Jose Democrat who chairs the House immigration subcommittee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be among the key players for California. They know that a root cause of the mess is that legal channels of immigration are few and inadequate to U.S. needs.
It is extremely difficult for the foreign-born to join family members or to turn a legal temporary job into residency. Waits are routinely seven years and as long as 22 years.
As Lofgren has pointed out, the backlog problem in California is "quite severe" and "runs the gamut from family members separated from each other to Nobel Prize winners."
Employment-based visas don't begin to fill the demand for workers – especially those in less-skilled jobs such as farming or food processing. As a result, many families and employers take matters into their own hands, evading the law due to a lack of legal options.
Tennessee, and Nashville in particular, are “new” immigration destinations, typical of many parts of the New South. Job growth has been high, immigrants have been attracted to a vibrant economy, and the region has struggled with an immigrant population that has grown significantly in the last two decades, starting almost from nothing. All sorts of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant proposals and policies have been proposed – and sometimes adopted – but by-and-large, Nashville and Tennessee have remained welcoming destinations for workers and families making a new life for themselves in the United States.
The Tennessean editorial acknowledges the growing pains, but calls on its readers to work together towards solutions on immigration and assimilation.
In what has already been a year of transition and tumult for Tennessee and the nation, the debate over immigration reform has only begun to warm up.
The biggest challenge may be to fend off a disturbing surge in fear and suspicion that threatens to derail intelligent discussion of this important issue.
It is a discussion that needs to take place, at the national, state and local levels, because immigration, legal and illegal, has a profound impact on our economy, our culture and how we function as a community. This can be seen in the dispute over the U.S.-Mexico border fence; highly controversial customs raids resulting in deportation and family separations; and the competition for jobs between immigrants and local workers, which has intensified during the recession.
The Tennessean singles out two efforts for praise, the Reform Immigration For America campaign, which is fighting for comprehensive immigration reform nationally, and the Welcoming Tennessee initiative led in part by the Tennessee Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
In a separate article Tuesday, The Tennessean profiles the Welcoming Tennessee initiative, which recently won a $50,000 grant to promote immigrant integration, assimilation, and the welcoming spirit of Tennessee.
Finally, for an excellent explanation of the need for comprehensive immigration reform and why it needs to be comprehensive, we recommend Nashville immigration attorney Mario Ramos’ op-ed article, also in Wednesday’s The Tennessean, “Reform Must Be Comprehensive.”