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Letter: Immigration reform could, and should, be passed quickly

By Margaret K. Erickson, Worthington I attended the town hall meeting held by Rep. Tim Walz last Saturday in Worthington. I appreciated the civil atmosphere. There were thoughtful questions on many issues. Congressman Walz answered them thoroughl...

By Margaret K. Erickson, Worthington

 

I attended the town hall meeting held by Rep. Tim Walz last Saturday in Worthington. I appreciated the civil atmosphere. There were thoughtful questions on many issues. Congressman Walz answered them thoroughly and respectfully.

 

A long-time area resident asked a question about immigrants who fear deportation. He wondered, when some people have been living and working here for many years, why they haven’t become citizens.

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I am glad he asked that question. Because it has been on the minds of many Americans, it’s a good question. It has a good answer: Many can’t.

 

There are very few routes to legal immigration. In some cases U.S. citizens can sponsor members of their immediate family to become legal permanent residents and then citizens. (This is not absolute -- the citizen must show a certain level of income and the citizen’s spouse, parent, son or daughter has to pass a background check to be admitted.) Under a few limited circumstances, an employer may sponsor an immigrant employee. (Again, the immigrant’s background is scrutinized.)  Some victims of horrendous persecution from dangerous parts of the world -- a fraction of the total number of these victims -- have been able, after long waits and intensive investigation -- to enter as refugees.

 

If someone doesn’t fit the short list of immigration categories, there is no way for them to come in as “legal immigrants.” Many of us are descended from people who left difficult situations, endured hardship to get here, “got in line” to come in, worked hard and eventually became citizens. Many people today are in equally (or more) difficult places, are willing to endure hardship and to work steadily and contribute to the community, but today there is no “line.” Most people who want to come to the U.S. to live, even if their family’s lives are at risk (from war, crime, or famine) have no legitimate route to do so.

 

If someone is already here, no matter how long, if they have worked and paid taxes and followed the law, for almost everyone there isn’t a “line” they can get into to legalize their status.

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Some ask, didn’t they come illegally? True, some did (some risking their lives to seek a better future for their families). Most of the so-called “illegal” immigrants in the U.S. today entered legally, with appropriate documents, but stayed, for one reason or another, after the documents lapsed. As we know, some were brought here as children; some know no other home.

 

Throughout its history our country has reaped enormous benefits from people who have come here from all parts of the world. Today’s immigrants are an important part of our community.

 

Most people think there should be a “line” to get legal status, with criteria that allow law-abiding immigrants to stay. That’s what a “path to citizenship” is, like the path that was there for my great-grandparents.      

 

As Rep. Walz said, a fair and effective policy could be passed and implemented very quickly if the “political will” were there.  It’s in all of our interests to allow our newest neighbors to come “out of the shadows,” to use his phrase, and become fully-recognized Americans.

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