The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Jan 01, 2004 | by
  • Description

As President Bush acknowledged in his January 7 speech on immigration reform, current U.S. policies toward undocumented immigration are unsustainable. In outlining his administration's proposal for a temporary worker program that would include undocumented immigrants already living in the United States, the president observed that immigration reform "must begin by confronting a basic fact of life and economics: some of the jobs being generated in America's growing economy are jobs American citizens are not filling." He described a broken system in which many employers are "turning to the illegal labor market," while "we see millions of hard-working men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive, undocumented economy." Crucial aspects of the president's proposal remain unclear, such as the fate of millions of undocumented workers who have lived in the United States for many years or even decades, developing deep roots in their communities and raising U.S.-born children. How these workers and their families would fit into a "temporary" workers program is a key question. However, the proposal has put immigration reform back on the national political agenda for the first time since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Congress should take the president's proposal as a starting point and work to fix a broken immigration system that sends the dual messages "Keep Out" and "Help Wanted" to the Mexican and Central American workers upon whom large sectors of the U.S. economy depend. The cost of doing nothing -- in both lives and dollars -- is far too great.