The Wall Street Journal is not always a fan or supporter of small businesses, the Latino community or immigration. But recently, it, in effect, joined forces with a strong proponent of effective immigration reform, Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Chicago. They both denounced President Obama’s immigration reform efforts as insincere and duplicitous.
At our recent White House meeting with Obama’s chief policy adviser, David Axelrod, we learned that the president is fully committed to effective immigration reform. At this point, we believe it is important that the Latino business community and all other advocates for effective immigration reform assume that the president has an unwavering commitment to effective immigration reform similar to that proposed by Gutierrez and strongly supported by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.
Immigration reform is far more important in Los Angeles County than anywhere else in the country. Our economy and, in particular, small businesses are heavily dependent on a large and reliable immigrant labor force that has made us one of the strongest economies in the world.
This year the president has successfully completed two major legislative reform bills, health care and banking. The third leg of his reform program, immigration, can still be put in place this year.
In order to do this, we should not be diverted by Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant bill that threatens basic American freedoms and constitutional rights. The president should instead capitalize on Arizona’s trampling of basic American rights by proposing a bold, Reagan-like immigration reform program. It is essential that this be done immediately to cut off growing national support for Arizona’s anti-immigrant position, including the possibility that a dozen other states may soon enact similar anti-immigration legislation.
In California, for example, we have observed that the Latino vote, a key to re-election of many congressional Democrats throughout the nation, is wavering because Latinos believe health care reform does not benefit them and the bank regulatory reforms appear to be more about derivatives than Main Street concerns, such as preventing foreclosures.
Given the volatility of this growing voting population, the president should quickly meet with Gutierrez, the leaders of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus and Senate Republicans such as Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn. They share a perspective on immigration that John McCain once held, but is now unable to express due to vigorous opposition by a far-right, anti-immigrant candidate in the upcoming Arizona primaries to be decided before Labor Day. However, should McCain defeat his anti-immigrant primary opponent, as we hope, he, Graham and Cornyn could make the difference, particularly since Cornyn is the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee on Immigration.
The first provision of immigration reform from a political standpoint must unfortunately be a focus on securing our borders even though it has been the absence of these policies over the last 230 years that has made our nation great.
The second major reform provision, which is supported by virtually all pro-immigrant groups, is a clear, but not harsh, pathway for most of our 12 million undocumented residents to become citizens. This pathway should not be an obstacle course in which aspirants for citizenship fall by the wayside due to the extreme length of the process or because of technical defects.
The third major part of the reform program should be something virtually all Americans favor. If you wish to serve in our military or secure a college degree, we will smooth your path toward citizenship. Presently, only the Silicon Valley’s H1-B Visa applicants from India and Pakistan receive this type of preferential treatment.
These three reforms alone could diminish the force behind the Arizona anti-immigration law and prevent it from spreading across the country. This is not an idle danger since almost two-thirds of all Americans outside of Arizona support the state’s anti-immigration law. Many do so even though they know that it is unconstitutional and alien to deeply held American beliefs.
Lastly, America cannot afford to have two classes of citizens, one primarily white and prosperous, the other laboring for the minimum wage and locked out of our once-great university system. Often this is a result of de facto segregated and inferior public school systems in most of the nation where Latinos reside including Los Angeles. We should therefore modify the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency as we know it. Instead, all of us from all segments of our society, and across partisan lines, should create a new agency known as “Welcome to America.” Like its counterpart in Canada, it could promote assimilation, education, entrepreneurship and responsible citizenship.
Maria de Jesus Rosas is president of M&D Pecanland and treasurer of the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles; Gilbert Vasquez is president of Vasquez & Co. and vice chairman of LBC-GLA; and Jorge C. Corralejo is Chairman-CEO of LBC-GLA.
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