From the very beginning of our nation, immigrants have consistently made significant and positive contributions to our society and our economy. From service in our armed forces and local businesses to major advances in space exploration and technology, examples of the positive impact of immigrants are legion.
We do well, then, to carefully consider the impacts of policies on immigration, not just to immigrants but to our state and to the nation.
We should encourage legal migration, discourage illegal immigration, and pass immigration reforms.
Nationally, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) and the Secure Community Program are steps in the right direction.
Locally, bills like House Bill 1577 and Senate Bill 5407 continue discussion of the issues which should lead to outcomes all sides can live with. In the end the goal should be to encourage legal immigration as a mutually beneficial activity while compassionately, but effectively, dealing with illegal immigration.
The DREAM Act, if passed, would improve immigration policy in two ways.
First, it would improve the lives of a portion of the illegal immigrant community by bringing them “into the light.” With the fear of deportation removed, illegal immigrants could participate more fully in society while increasing their economic and educational opportunities.
Second, it would improve state and local communities by reinforcing the rule of law and increasing tax revenues.
However, it doesn’t go far enough. To be truly effective it would have to apply to illegal immigrants more widely. This would provide a structured process of evaluating illegal immigrants in the open. With such a process in place illegal immigrants would not face immediate deportation — if discovered — but would instead have a real, if conditional, avenue to legal status.
The Secure Community Program, a database program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement used to identify immigrants with criminal backgrounds, would improve immigration policy efficiently identifying ineligible immigrants for further processing. Currently, without this program, immigration officers manually review records of prisoners whose immigration status is in question.
Using the Secure Community Program database enables law enforcement to more quickly identify ineligible immigrants. Identifying and removing such immigrants, who would not be allowed to immigrate legally and who pose a demonstrated risk to the community, will improve the safety of all citizens, native or immigrant, and increase opportunities for legitimate immigrants.
Finally, state measures such as HB 1577 and SB 5407, while flawed, improve immigration policy by presenting a reasoned means of addressing illegal immigrants and by increasing public discussion of the issue and how we should best address it.
Both bills call for all residents to provide proof of citizenship and of state residency when applying for a driver’s license. If proof cannot be produced, a license will still be issued, provided driving proficiency is demonstrated, but a note will be added to the license indicating it cannot be used for identification purposes.
This arrangement would maintain the ability of illegal immigrants to obtain a driver’s license while addressing a variety of concerns over immigration status.
Critics of the measures argue that they target illegal immigrants and that illegal immigrants will be less likely to apply for a license. These are valid points and as such, for similar measures to be effective they must be coupled with reforms, like the DREAM Act, that begin to remove the fear of deportation that encourages illegal immigrants to remain hidden.
My hope is to spur thoughtful exploration of this issue. Resolving the immigration issue will require citizens and political leaders on all sides to work together to develop policy that helps everyone in the community, including illegal immigrants.
Kevin Deleon, a employee of the state of Washington and of the Washington Army National Guard, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached KreggieD@aol.com.