By Sandra A. Cook
Immigration reform, in some capacity, is on the horizon. People across Virginia have been challenging Congress to make this change for many years. We’ve written letters, called and held demonstrations in the streets that brought thousands of people out in support of a comprehensive plan that includes a clear path to citizenship. Some of our leaders are listening; Rep. Bob Goodlatte is not.
Many undocumented immigrants risked their lives coming to the United States in order to create a better opportunity for their families. Most of us can relate to the principle of wanting to do what is best for our family and provide our children with opportunities we never had.
Contrary to popular assumption, all immigrants, undocumented or not, pay some taxes — including sales, income and property taxes. Although immigrants already pay taxes and contribute to the American economy, if we enact comprehensive immigration reform, we have an opportunity to increase our gross domestic product in the U.S. to $1.4 trillion over 10 years, according to the Center for American Progress. Increases in the GDP lead to more jobs, increases in income for all Americans and an increase in tax revenue. Comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship makes sense for our economy.
But undocumented immigrants contribute to our state and to the western part of Virginia more than just economically. Immigrants add diversity in our schools and communities, which creates more viewpoints in the marketplace of ideas. Immigrants are often ambitious, having come to a new place for a new life, and are likely to take more risks to succeed by starting businesses. In addition, diversity leads to new ideas and new ideas lead to innovation — something our nation was built on.
Comprehensive immigration reform is good for the United States and good for Virginia. Thankfully, there are efforts in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to bring about comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship. These are bipartisan efforts that have been hashed out among our elected officials to bring us proposed legislation that, while not perfect, is a good start to reaching the goals of a path to citizenship, family reunification, and fair wages and treatment of immigrants.
When I think of the effect of comprehensive immigration reform, I think of the story of Maria. Maria was an honors student in the Roanoke area who, in spite of her 4.0 grade point average, could not go to college because she lacks a Social Security number. Maria came to the U.S. when she was in second grade. There are Marias in every part of Virginia and all across our nation, and we need real change that will make a difference in their lives and the lives of the millions of undocumented people in the U.S.
Unfortunately, Goodlatte introduced a bill last week to undermine these efforts. This bill is not comprehensive and only includes provisions for certain workers. What Goodlatte proposed is a guest worker program that cuts benefits and protections for immigrant farm workers, reduces government oversight and leaves family members to fend for themselves. The bill does not create any path to citizenship or allow provisions for families to stay together unless the members of the family also qualify for the guest worker program.
What is most disturbing about Goodlatte’s bill is that it is designed to undermine or even derail comprehensive immigration reform efforts. Apparently, the bipartisan efforts of our senators and representatives are not good enough for Goodlatte. By introducing this bill as an alternative, all the work put into comprehensive reform measures could be lost.
The people have not stood idly by on this issue, nor do I expect that they will stay silent on the introduction of this bill. Goodlatte needs to hear that his piecemeal plan is not what we have been fighting for. It is not a solution to the problem, but a Band-Aid meant to alleviate a symptom of the broken system, and it doesn’t even accomplish that.