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Expert urges immigration reform

Eva Binda | Friday, November 3, 2006

Calling the current immigration system in the United States “laughable,” executive director of the National Immigration forum Frank Sharry said in a lecture Thursday that the hot-button issue must be tackled comprehensively.

Sharry insisted that the American people are fed up with the current “broken” immigration system. In the past, Sharry said, most Americans did not pay much attention to the issue, but with midterm elections less than one week away, it is now one of the top five concerns for voters.

“The American people are tired of their politicians spewing sound bytes instead of finding solutions,” Sharry said, adding that the issue tends to provoke people on both sides, including those in the middle.

There are only 5,000 visas available for about 500,000 people who want to work in this country, Sharry said.

“We have forced [immigration] into the black market where the big beneficiaries are the fake document providers, the smugglers, and the unscrupulous employers,” he said.

The losers in this system, Sharry said, are the American taxpayers and the immigrants who risk their lives trying to gain access to the United States.

Ultimately, the problem lies in the simple principle of supply and demand, he said.

“All the fencing and border patrols in the world could not stop the human demand to work hard and feed families even if it means risking your life,” Sharry said. “We’ve got people moving to feed their families while we have jobs that need to be filled.”

Sharry believes the polarized views on how to solve the broken immigration system stems from different diagnoses of the problem. One diagnosis, he said, insists that increased border control will make the biggest difference.

“As a powerful sovereign nation, if we’re tough at the border, it will stop,” he said. “That’s one analysis. [If we] have a strong enough deterrent such as a wall or a fence, the problem will be solved. I respect [that analysis], but I don’t agree with it. It’s too insufficient. I’m a proponent of smart enforcement in context of other reforms.”

Sharry was unafraid to admit he is “a partisan.”

“I am a pro-immigrant advocate and proud of it,” he said.

He encouraged a different diagnosis and solution for the illegal immigration problem – what he called “comprehensive reform.”

Comprehensive reform seeks to solve the problem through various avenues, one of which is more border enforcement. Other components of comprehensive reform include a worker verification system, reduction of the family visa backlog, creation of a worker visa program and an earned path to citizenship, Sharry said.

It is too easy to forge the documents required to work in the United States since they do not include photo identification, Sharry said.

Instead, Sharry recommends counterfeit-proof documents.

“The key to enforcement is making worker verification work,” Sharry said. “[It would] take several years and about $10 billion, but there’s no other way.”

The family visa backlog refers to the people applying for visas to the U.S. who currently have family members in the U.S.

“Right now people have to wait around seven years to reunite with their families,” he said. “How many wait seven years? Not many.”

Sharry insisted the creation of a worker visa program and an earned path to citizenship is not just “giving away” amnesty. That process, he said, would be difficult. Sharry suggested that candidates pay a fine for entering the country illegally and learn English.

And Sharry believes illegal immigrants want to learn English.

“Do you think an immigrant mother likes to go into a doctor’s office and have her eight-year-old translate for her? They want to learn English,” Sharry said.

Sharry insisted that most immigrants who are here illegally want to be Americans and just want a part of the American dream.

“The hunger to be an American is palpable.”