Flawed Act Will Not Solve Our Immigration Problems

By Gideon Aronoff

Published April 03, 2008, issue of April 11, 2008.
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The House of Representatives is poised to ram through in the coming weeks a disastrous piece of legislation dubbed the “Save Act” that will imperil the ability of millions of Americans to work in this country and will waste countless more resources and money on a failed policy. As the disastrous failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation recedes further into the background, it is becoming clearer that in its absence we have little hope of developing an immigration system that is holistic, compassionate and effective.

Immigration activists were understandably dismayed when late last year Rep. Heath Shuler, a North Carolina Democrat, and Republican Reps. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Brian Bilbray of California introduced the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act, or Save Act for short. But we became truly alarmed when the bill’s supporters announced March 11 that they would use a “discharge petition” to bring the bill directly to the House floor for a vote — without allowing any congressional committee to consider the merits or drawbacks of the bill.

Rushing to advance such a seriously flawed measure that will negatively impact millions of workers in the United States without any kind of debate or process to amend the bill is as foolish as it is dangerous.

Rather than systematically addressing the problems in our broken immigration system, the Save Act expands the existing “Basic Pilot” employment verification system, now known as “E-Verify,” to cover all employers and all workers in just four short years, without resolving the well-documented problems of the current system. The Social Security Administration estimates that 17.8 million of its records contain discrepancies, of which 71% pertain to American citizens. That means that unless the errors in the E-Verify database are addressed, the Save Act would place in jeopardy the jobs of an estimated 12.7 million American workers whose information appears incorrectly in the database.

The Save Act would also throw billions of taxpayer dollars at outdated policies that have failed over the past 20 years and are doomed to failure without reform of the legal immigration system. Over the past two decades, the United States has been ramping up border and interior enforcement exponentially, yet the number of undocumented immigrants in this country continues to grow. The Save Act is not a silver bullet for illegal immigration; it’s merely window dressing.

Among many other troubling provisions in the Save Act, the bill would undermine security in our communities by imposing nationwide requirements on local police officers to act as immigration agents. This is an unwise policy that has been shown to foster distrust between law enforcement and the communities they protect. Our police officers should be solving crimes and catching criminals, not spending their time chasing down busboys and nannies who have overstayed their visa.

The bill also calls for pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into the construction of 8,000 more detention spaces for immigrants. Last year, American taxpayers paid more than $1.2 billion to detain more than 260,000 individuals, including hundreds of families. About half of all immigrants held in detention centers have no criminal record. The detention of so many people who pose no threat to us is a costly, inhumane and unnecessary.

Contrary to the message the Save Act’s moniker conveys, this bill will not save America. Instead, it will pave the way for America to continue down a perilous path in which the exploitation of human beings continues to escalate, hate crimes and hate rhetoric against immigrants continue to intensify, and our families and communities continue to suffer in the face of fear and distrust.

As Jews, we most value those things about our country that come from our own tradition of welcoming the stranger and treating those immigrants among us with honor and respect. What we see happening around us on a daily basis gives us pause.

As Jews and Americans, we must ask ourselves what kind of country we are and what kind of country we want to become. Do we want to be a country that locks up millions of immigrants and children who have committed no crime? Do we want to be the kind of country where immigration agents break down the doors of people’s homes in the middle of the night waving guns in their faces? Are we the kind of country that turns a blind eye to the ruthless exploitation of workers at the hands of unscrupulous employers?

We believe that this is not the kind of country America is or wants to become. We believe that America is the kind of country that values opportunity and aspiration, fairness and community, justice and the rule of law. We also believe that America is the kind of country that respects the human dignity of all people, regardless of immigration status.

And so we call on Congress to safeguard — to truly save — these faith-based values that make our country so great. By doing so, we take a stand against attempts to ensnare us in an identity that we neither asked for nor desire.

Gideon Aronoff is president & CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

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