By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, President Obama encouraged both houses of Congress to “continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”
The issue continues to affect Asian immigrants who want to stay, work, and raise their families in the United Sates. An unbroken immigration system would result in an estimated $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years.
Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, said she’s “really happy” that Obama mentioned comprehensive immigration reform in his address.
At a media briefing on Feb. 1, she spoke about her organization’s efforts to encourage federal and state legislative action in 2010. “It’s clearly a priority for him,” she said. “We would like to see him actually come out with a clear statement about how we achieve that in the same way that he did with health care reform and climate change.” Whether that statement is made or not, Jayapal recognizes that creating more jobs is the top priority for Obama’s administration.
Current efforts in the area of immigration include Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-Ill.) bill, which is known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009. It is currently being debated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jayapal says Obama, immediately after taking office, reminded all immigration advocates that they need to get 100,000 people to support comprehensive immigration reform, not just 100 people. “So, we’re also mobilizing the streets to make sure that we can put the pressure on the president, the House leadership, the Senate leadership, and all of the members of Congress to make sure that this is something they know is right for the country, right for the economy, and right for their political future,” she explained.
OneAmerica identified seven critical components of comprehensive immigration reform. They include enhancing our nation’s security and safety, protecting fundamental rights for all, a rational and humane approach to undocumented immigrants, ensuring appropriate ways for workers to enter the U.S. legally, allocating sufficient visas, and promoting immigrant integration.
The seventh component concerns keeping American families together and reducing immigration backlogs. OneAmerica says outdated family immigration channels need to be reformed “to restore our commitment to promoting family unity.”
“What does it mean to say the family backlog?” asked Jayapal. “And, why does that affect Filipinos and Chinese, and how many Koreans are undocumented anyway? Those kinds of things are part of why we think it’s important to always articulate all the principles in immigration reform, so that people really understand this is an issue that, of course, affects the Latino community, but also affects a lot of other communities as well, [including] the Caucasian community.”
OneAmerica’s mission is “to advance the fundamental principles of democracy and justice through building power in immigrant communities, in collaboration with key allies.”
Regarding refugees, Sarah Curry, OneAmerica’s research and policy manager, said, “There are a high number of refugees that end up with an undocumented status, and if we look at refugee policies over hundreds of years, we see different waves.” She is the author of the organization’s report on immigrant contributions to Washington state.
The Seattle-based immigrant advocacy organization also introduced new features on its website, one designed to be a “one-stop shop” for resources related to immigration.
Naomi Ishisaka, OneAmerica’s communications director, said, “It was really important that we had something that was really flexible, that was really quick to update, and something that allowed us to have a range of content from research to news to photos and videos to all the things that we wanted to do.”
OneAmerica offers free assistance with citizenship applications in various cities throughout Washington state.
Past immigration reform efforts on the national level include the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which created “a comprehensive scheme prohibiting the employment of illegal aliens in the United States.” The IRCA also established an extensive “employment verification system” – known as the I-9 system – designed to deny employment to illegal aliens.
The IRCA was followed by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996. It assigned the U.S. attorney general “to establish three pilot programs to ensure efficient and accurate verification of any new employee’s eligibility for employment.”
“I think if we don’t pass it this year, we’re looking at potentially waiting until 2013, which I have to say would be an absolute travesty for immigrants and for the country as a whole,” said Jayapal. ♦
For more information about OneAmerica, go to www.weareoneamerica.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.