Immigration Reform Must Be Humane
By: Wade Henderson, Esq., President and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund
As Congress takes on drafting an immigration reform bill, it is vital that this include more realistic and more humane immigration enforcement. Any comprehensive immigration reform bill must ensure due process and humane treatment of all immigrants as well as a fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
It is no doubt important for many reasons to know who is coming here and under what circumstances. Yet years of “enforcement only” policies have led to record numbers of detentions and deportations, excessive use of force, and rampant racial profiling. Racial profiling is not only an ineffective, discriminatory practice for immigration enforcement; it also threatens the rights of citizens of color.
Current immigration laws allow the government to detain or deport many without seeing an immigration judge, and the vast majority are not represented by counsel. This approach has eroded due process and human rights for those detained and threatened the privacy and freedom of citizens and noncitizens alike. Such developments are unacceptable in a nation founded upon democratic values, individual freedom, and equal rights.
Federal immigration reforms should protect the fundamental constitutional principle of due process and ensure that everyone has access to courts to argue their case and ask for their freedom outside of the coercive conditions of detention. At its best, these activities have led immigrant communities to fear and avoid police, travel, and community institutions; at its worst, it has led to the tragic and unnecessary deaths of border community residents, including U.S. citizens. The border does not need more boots on the ground, walls or drones. Humane border policy needs to include a prohibition on racial profiling, training and accountability for CBP agents, and a separation between border enforcement efforts and state and local policing.
Another unjust form of immigration enforcement is the E-Verify program, which threatens to exacerbate employment discrimination and racial profiling against immigrants, people of color, and people with names that might be perceived as foreign. E-Verify, which checks people against a government database before allowing them to work, has been dangerously error-prone. As individuals and communities of color are often subject to the most pronounced privacy violations, including unreasonable “stop and frisk” tactics, creating a national ID system would almost certainly deepen the problem of racial profiling in the U.S., while also overburdening taxpayers, employers, and government agencies. Congress should take this opportunity to move forward with an immigration reform bill that accepts the new realities of the U.S. workforce and facilitates workers’ rights, family unity, and human dignity.
Regardless of how they may have initially come here, if undocumented immigrants show a willingness to play by the rules and contribute to our economy and our society, we should have policies in place that will reward their hard work. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights believes that such reform is crucial to bringing millions out of the shadows and into the fabric of society. Such a path must be inclusive, accessible, and fair, allowing all families, including those with same-sex partners, a path to citizenship. It must not be so expensive and onerous that it leaves millions in limbo for lengthy periods of time. Any adjustments to enforcement programs and policies should be to scale down enforcement efforts, focusing on accountability and this country’s founding principles of fairness, due process, and equal protection of the law.