With the passage of national health care reform completed, many immigrant advocates are urging Congress to revive efforts for comprehensive immigration reform. Their hopes were boosted on April 10, 2010 as the U.S. Senate majority leader, Harry Reid told a cheering crowd of 6,000 people, "We're going to come back; we're going to have comprehensive immigration reform now." Congress returned from spring recess on April 12.
As new legislative proposals begin to circulate, the national debate on immigration will surely heat up just as it has in our nation's past. The debate is often times a contentious and rancorous one full of fiery rhetoric and nasty invectives. This was certainly the case in the late 1870s, and the result was the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The current national debate on immigration coincides with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island. While AIISF is not primarily an immigrant rights advocacy organization, our board of directors believes it is important to address this important national issue during the centennial year. The historical lesson of Angel Island is that unfair immigration laws have harsh and deep repercussions on the lives of people. Conversely, fair immigration policies can lead to beneficial gains for our entire society. It is in the spirit of fostering a civil discourse that the AIISF Board of Directors has adopted the following set of principles for immigration policy reform.
The United States is a country built on immigration; it's part of the fabric of our national identity. Yet, there is broad consensus that our nation's immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. Legal means for immigrants to enter and work in our country have been very limited. Immigration visa backlogs have caused some families to wait more than 10 years to be reunited with their relatives. Consequently millions of immigrants have entered the U.S. without authorization, and others on travel visas remain here after their visas have expired.
Based on its mission to help Americans learn the lessons of the past to improve how immigrants are treated today, the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation Board of Directors calls on the President, federal policymakers and stakeholder groups to observe the principles below as they engage in the national debate to reform our nation's immigration system.
#1: Pursue a rational and humane approach to the undocumented population.
#2: Promote economic opportunity for all.
#3: Implement an employment verification system that works for workers and employers.
#4: Protect and advance family unity as a cornerstone of the nation's immigration system.
#5: Allocate sufficient worker visas to close incentives for unlawful migration.
#6: Implement smart, effective enforcement measures.
#7: Limit mandatory detention and create alternatives to detention.
#8: Establish a strategic border enforcement policy that respects the rights of border community residents.
The Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Immigration Station, Angel Island provides AIISF and its supporters the opportunity to share the lessons on past immigration detention and their effects on immigrants to inform the current, at times heated, national debate on immigration reform. The Immigration Station stands as the National Historic Landmark that symbolizes how much American immigration policy has rightly progressed in the last century, yet faces many of the same questions for the next century.
America has had an uneasy, unsettled relationship with immigrants and the changing demographics they bring to local communities. As such, AIISF has sought to educate the public about the complex story and rich cultural heritage of Pacific Coast immigrants and their descendants. Consistent with its Principles for Immigration Policy and as a member of the International Sites of Conscience Network, AIISF seeks to add its voice and participate in the national dialogue and urges policymakers to embrace and adopt reasonable, workable solutions to immigration reform.