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Professor discusses ideal immigration reform

John Cameron | Thursday, February 18, 2010

 Rodolfo O. de la Garza, Eaton professor of Administrative Law and Political Science at Columbia University, offered a new approach to immigration reform Wednesday at a presentation titled “A Proposal for Immigration Reform.”

The lecture, held at McKenna Hall, was meant to “reflect the interconnection of [de la Garza’s] work as a comparativist … as an American … and on policy,” de la Garza said.
The lecture was presented in part as a response to The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, recent legislation introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). De la Garza outlined various points that he believes Gutierrez’s bill did not adequately address.
The important areas to consider are “how [immigration] affects the U.S., how it affects immigrants and how it affects sending states,” de la Garza said. 
The issues affecting Americans, de la Garza said, are national security, social services, infrastructure, economic, population growth and cultural changes. 
“Politically, they are relevant to the American people,” he said.
Discrimination, social insecurity, income and familial hardships are issues relevant to the immigrants themselves, he said.
“They’re allowed to buy whatever they want,” de la Garza said of the hypocrisy of encouraging immigrants to spend in America, “but they’re fearful for their lives.”
The sending states, de la Garza said, are too often ignored when lawmakers consider the ramifications of immigration policy. 
For sending states, immigration serves as a political and economic safety valve, when dissatisfied citizens leave in the face of political injustice or economic hardship. Remittances, de la Garza said, are especially controversial.
“Cuba got rid of the opposition — they’re in Miami,” de la Garza said. “Remittances are often characterized as if they develop a country. There’s no evidence that this is the case … most of the money goes to poverty reduction at the familial level.”
De la Garza’s plan for dealing with these issues is based on three concepts: restricting access to workers over the age of 18, managing the cultural impact of immigration and documenting the undocumented by selling temporary legalization tickets.
“Currently to come illegally it costs $3,000 to $5,000,” de la Garza said.
These tickets, he said, would “undercut the illegal market” for immigration assistance, by costing between $1,000 and $5,000, and would reflect changes in the market demand and fluctuation in the illegal market’s pricing.
Once documented, de la Garza said the immigrants should have access to workers’ rights, the ability to visit their families — children are not allowed to accompany them to the United States — and would be eligible for social services available to resident aliens, precluding access to free education and non-emergency state-funded medical care.
“They can organize, they can strike, they can move anywhere, [like] legitimate American workers,” de la Garza said of his ideal immigration policy.
He said these policies would benefit the economy by saving money, border patrol, border wall construction, healthcare and education. They would also increase job competition and designate revenue from the ticket sales to the states with the highest immigrant population, rather than a single income for the federal government.
“The only group suffering marginally from undocumented labor are Puerto Rican males,” de la Garza said of the controversial belief that immigrants take jobs from Americans. “We would reduce health care costs by reducing the needy population.”
De la Garza said these reforms would reduce familial hardship by allowing free travel for temporary immigrants to visit home and return to the U.S. for a period of five years, after which time they can apply for legal-alien status or return to their countries of origin permanently. 
De la Garza’s final point discussed the necessary changes within the regimes of the sender nations.
“[The regimes] must become more open and accountable to its citizens,” he said. “If they don’t the citizens will continue to leave.”
De la Garza proposed the U.S. us its political clout to influence these nations’ policies, thereby reducing the immigrants desire to leave.
“They really don’t want to be here unless things are really bad at home,” he said.
Ultimately, de la Garza said he believes the changes allowing for such policy reforms are not exclusively political, and the discussion needs to be expanded upon.
“The cultural opposition has to be diminished,” he said.