I commend President Barack Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform and his strong understanding of the very human experience behind this challenge. In his speech Thursday, the president hit the nail on the head by touching on all of the key aspects of this very complex issue.
[IMGCAP(1)]Immigration reform can lead the way to a more prosperous and united America, one that is based on respect and fairness for the richness of our diversity, as opposed to one that is divided by our worst fears.
A majority of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform. Our fundamentally broken system has not been updated in more than 20 years, leaving family members and loved ones separated for years, sometimes decades, at a time. This heart-wrenching fact alone is all the more reason why a comprehensive plan must include a way for all families, including lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual families, to be reunited.
As Obama highlighted, immigration flows create a younger work force and a faster-growing economy. Immigrant families buy homes, pool money to invest in education and own small businesses that create jobs for Americans. Asian-owned businesses alone have created 1.1 million jobs for our country. Much of the frustration of both Americans and immigrants is rooted in economic challenges, but a commitment to comprehensive reform would net our economy $1.5 trillion over a 10-year period.
We have a political, moral and economic imperative to act now on comprehensive immigration reform. This is particularly important for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. There are 1.5 million undocumented Asian immigrants who contribute to our communities and economy every day, and who could contribute more if they were legalized. Millions of families are separated for years, waiting in the backlogs of our broken family visa system.
I have long said that a punitive, enforcement-only approach to immigration reform is not the solution. Instead, I believe that a humane reform that respects the dignity of immigrant communities and recognizes their contributions to our economy and our society, while securing our borders and protecting our national security, is the best road to comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration reform must include our fundamental American values of honesty, fair play and compassion.
Throughout our country’s history, from anti-Irish sentiment, to the Alien and Sedition Acts, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, to anti-Hispanic sentiment today, debates about immigration have gone to the heart of what it means to be an American, and have challenged the xenophobia in our leadership, communities, schools and families. At the end of the day, debates about difference and diversity ultimately strengthen our society’s values of inclusion, equality and justice that we strive to honor. This growth is only possible with the strong and laudable leadership of Obama.
I commend Obama for his attention, commitment and resolve to address one of the most pressing issues of our time. He has recognized that political will and courage are necessary to move comprehensive immigration reform forward — now, it is the responsibility of Congress to put his words into action. The president has clearly called on Congress to redouble our efforts to meet this goal, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to achieve this.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.