Immigration Laws: What we can and cannot wait for

Posted on November 25, 2009


Elvira Arellano

As we’ve battled for legalization over the last ten years in the United States We came together around legislation which would transform and regulate all aspects of immigration and immigrant labor. It was like a burro that so much was loaded on to it that you couldn’t even see its head any more.  With the new congress, the new president and the strong contribution of the Latino vote, we should decide what we can wait for and what we cannot wait for.

First, we cannot wait while families are being separated. Just as when your baby cries you put down everything else you are doing, we must listen to the cries of the children who are seeing, or live in fear of seeing, their mother or father, brother or sister, taken away by men in uniform and deported.

The mass meeting that Congressman Gutierrez and Familia Latina Unida held last Saturday in Chicago should be repeated everywhere. Hundreds of families came forward to give the details of how their family faced separation as U.S. citizen husbands and children watched an undocumented mother fight for the right  to stay and raise her children and care for her beloved husband. The Congressman has said he will take these cases and put them on President Elect Barack Obama’s desk and he has asked the community to join with their Congressmen to do the same thing.  We cannot wait while they separate families.

Second, we should not have to wait while individuals who have worked hard, paid their taxes and obeyed the laws of the U.S. can come out of the shadows.  Many of these have traveled north to feed their families but have not been able to see their families and their children for years. They did not create the system of undocumented labor, they have just tried to survive within it. They should be given the right to work legally in the U.S. and to travel back and forth to see their children.

As to all the other issues involved in fixing the broken immigration system, maybe we should wait a little longer. The way the border is operated and the way new workers come into the U.S., for instance as guest workers, needs more thought. It is NAFTA that caused so many Mexicans to go north to work as this trade agreement destroyed our agricultural communities. The Mexican economy and the U.S. economy are  tied  together in many ways and these relationships include the role of Mexican labor  in the U.S. They should all be looked at together.

The same is also true about the trade, labor and immigration relationships between the U.S. and other countries of Latin America and the  Caribbean. So maybe some things can wait and be looked at in different contexts – but families cannot wait. There must be legalization within the first 100 days.