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Testimony Before the US Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Control, and Refugees Regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Testimony Before the US Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Control, and Refugees Regarding Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009”

Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Refugees
Judiciary Committee
U.S. Senate

Testimony of
Chung-Wha Hong
Executive Director
New York Immigration Coalition


Chairman Schumer, Ranking Leader Conryn, and members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for the record regarding today’s hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009.”

The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) is an umbrella policy and advocacy organization for more than 200 groups in New York State that work with immigrants and refugees. Serving one of the largest and most diverse newcomer populations in the United States, the NYIC has become a leading advocate for immigrant communities on the local, state, and national levels. The NYIC’s membership includes grassroots community organizations, nonprofit health and human services organizations, religious and academic institutions, labor unions, and legal, social, and economic justice organizations. With its multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-sector base, the NYIC provides both a forum for immigrant groups to share their concerns and a vehicle for collective action to bring about positive social change locally and nationally.

America’s immigration system is broken and is a national shame. Immigrant workers and families are under siege. Workers are being exploited. Families are being divided. Raids leave immigrants feeling unsafe and vulnerable in their own homes and workplaces. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are detained each year in awful conditions. The government sets narrow quotas limiting how many immigrants can come to America lawfully—and the result is an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, with no protection. The immigration system as it now stands is simply out of step with the nation’s needs and values, which makes the continued emphasis over the past many years on enforcement an exercise in futility, cruelty, and squandered resources.

The economic crisis is creating additional distress and makes the need for just and humane immigration reform even more urgent in 2009. We urge the President and Congress to enact just and humane immigration reform in 2009 because:

We need to address the 12 million undocumented people living here
Legalizing undocumented workers would improve wages and working conditions for U.S.-born and immigrant workers alike in key industries such as construction, agriculture, restaurant, hotel, and maintenance services. It also would bring millions of current workers into the formal economy and make it easier for everyone to pay taxes, increasing revenues for cash-strapped federal, state, and local governments.

We can no longer afford the human and financial costs of taking an “enforcement-only” approach
The U.S. government has wasted resources on ineffective and failed attempts at enforcing dysfunctional immigration laws. The outdated immigration system has caused thousands of tragic deaths at our borders and detention centers. Estimates for building and maintaining the southern border fence are reaching the $60 billion mark, and a recent immigration worksite enforcement raid cost taxpayers $5.2 million alone—which does not even take into account the costs incurred when families are torn apart, children’s parents are detained, communities traumatized, and local economies destroyed.

America must decide which workers and family members can come legally in the future
Americans are aging and new immigrants are necessary to fill essential jobs and ensure continued economic growth. The native-born workforce will stagnate as waves of baby boomers retire and birthrates slow. Current immigration laws make it difficult or impossible for families to stay together; and they hinder American business’s access to the labor force it needs to compete in a global economy. America’s high demand for workers--and our values as a nation that recognize that families should be able to stay together--are not reflected in the current immigration quotas. As a result of these dysfunctional immigration policies, immigrants are forced to bear years and decades of separation from their loved ones who are U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident immediate family members. And without any other options, many overstay visas or enter without visas to stay together as family.

The civil rights of native-born and new Americans are routinely violated
Congress has added and broadened grounds for deportation, and cut back sharply on the discretion that immigration judges previously had to consider all the circumstances of an immigrant’s case. Several discretionary avenues that had enabled immigrants facing deportation to stay have either been restricted or abolished altogether. Immigration courts are also more limited in their authority to release or set bond for immigrants, and immigrants are much more constrained in their opportunities to get their cases reviewed on appeal.

Local enforcement of federal immigration laws have caused infractions on the civil liberties of native-born and immigrant Americans. Since it is impossible to ascertain a person’s legal status by appearance, accent or name, local immigration enforcement programs have made local police into immigration agents, undermining police-community relations in immigrant communities and leading to racial profiling of Latino, Asian, Muslim and other immigrants and/or citizens.

Just and humane immigration reform must:

Provide a path to citizenship
Undocumented immigrants contribute to our society and economy and are an integral part of communities across the country. Allowing this population the opportunity to become legal residents, and eventually citizens, will restore the rule of law allow immigrants to pay their fair share of taxes, promote integration rather than fear, and maximize immigrant contributions to our nation.

Treat families with respect and dignity
Family unification brings multiple benefits to our community and to the country as a whole. However, family members are separated for decades because of restrictive visa quotas and lengthy application processes that plague U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who seek to unify with immediate relatives. The normalization of visa quotas and elimination of such backlogs will keep families together.

Provide worker protections for all
Immigrant workers are actively recruited by U.S. firms, but lack employment protections, and are afraid to report exploitation by employers. Any employment-based immigration program must include provision for full labor rights; the right to change jobs; and a path to permanent residence and citizenship. The new system must facilitate and enforce equal rights for all workers and minimize the opportunities for abuse by unscrupulous employers.

Uphold due process and security
Current immigration enforcement policies create fear among immigrant and nonimmigrant communities alike, and are ineffectual, as they are attempting to enforce a system that is broken and unworkable. Fair and sensible enforcement practices tied to realistic immigration laws that serve our nation’s interest are critical to rebuilding trust among immigrant communities and protecting the security of all. The Constitution guarantees due process for all people in this country. Our government, however, has not fulfilled that guarantee in its treatment of immigrants. Congress must restore basic civil liberties for all individuals in this country and our commitment to core American values of fairness and justice.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express our views regarding today’s important hearing. We would be happy to answer any post-hearing follow-up questions you may have.

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