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Toward Wise US Immigration Policy
email this pageprint this pageemail usMark Alvarez - PVNN
December 07, 2010

"We are all humans and immigrants in this world."
-Vanessa B., high school junior.

Immigration is not about them; it is about us. Changing flawed immigration policies and enforcement is a shared responsibility.

Arizona law and Utah proposals have provoked uncivil conversation on all sides of the immigration debate. Substantive conversation is silent.
Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court decisions and various legal principles authorize the federal government to regulate immigration. The current system largely dates back to the 1960s. Congress and the President have failed to address resulting strains.

States have acted, sometimes in excess of their authority. Recently, Arizona enacted a law with the express intent to "make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies." Some Utah politicians suggest doing the same here.

Arizona law and Utah proposals have provoked uncivil conversation on all sides of the immigration debate. Substantive conversation is silent.

Unease in the U.S. and Utah suggest public policy cannot be left entirely to politicians. An informed public interest must prevail over narrower interests that get people elected. The right thing to do ought to be a guide to thought, not an afterthought.

How should we handle undocumented or illegal immigrants? Mass deportations seem unrealistic. Should some immigration status be granted? Should it be temporary, permanent or a combination? Criteria could include payment of a fine, study or knowledge of English, established presence in the U.S. for a certain period and lack of a criminal record.

How should we change the family-based immigration process? Many waiting lists exceed seven years. One exceeds twenty-two years. If family unification is important in immigration policy, the system should be streamlined and waiting time shortened.

How should we change the employment-based system? Policy should be as dynamic as the economy. When jobs are plentiful, more worker visas should be available. When jobs are scarce, fewer.

Current immigration policy favors high-skilled foreign workers. These workers stimulate the economy and improve U.S. global competitiveness. Still, lower-skilled workers plainly are needed in some areas such as agriculture. Should there be more visas available for these workers?

Logic suggests that low-skilled immigrant workers compete with unemployed U.S. workers. But ask a dairy farmer, employers in agriculture and other business owners. U.S. workers do not last on some jobs. Most would not want the work.

Employment verification needs to be tightened. The law is plain: people should not work without documents. Nevertheless, 5.4 percent of the U.S. workforce is undocumented. The challenge for new verification requirements is respecting privacy rights and not placing onerous conditions on employers. Is a biometric identification card feasible?

The border issue concerns facilitating an ordered flow of people and commerce while deterring criminal activity. Borders should be smart.

Immigrants bring with them dreams and determination. Communities find themselves challenged by difference. Better integration of immigrants would be a worthwhile goal in keeping with American core values.

Conversation about immigration mostly has become toxic, much to the detriment of justice, basic values and family. Time to end that and have a conversation about human rights and dignity. Rational immigration reform begins with us.

Mark Alvarez is a Salt Lake City attorney and a member of the city Library Board. He co-hosts a Spanish-language radio show. He currently resides in Mexico City. Contact him at alvarez_mark2004(at)

Click HERE to read more articles by Mark Alvarez on

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