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Working in America: Time for Republicans to get serious on immigration

When given the opportunity, migrants choose lawful pathways to citizenship

Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., right, and ranking member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on May 11.
Chairman Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., right, and ranking member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on May 11. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Last month, our country narrowly avoided a government shutdown, and another deadline looms just days away.

While the Senate was working hard to keep the government’s lights on, radical House Republicans proposed an option they knew would be dead on arrival in the Senate, the Secure the Border Act of 2023.

Why was this MAGA proposal doomed? Well, it includes an almost 8 percent budget cut to the Department of Homeland Security, which would make it much harder to keep our southwest border secure. And the bill would bring back many of the Trump administration’s failed anti-immigrant policies.

Now, I agree with my Republican colleagues that we need to secure the border. Most migrants come to America for the same reason my mother and her family did many years ago. They want a better life. They want a job. And we need many of them. But we need to write laws that bring order to our southwest border and allow for the safe and humane processing of immigrants.

With crises in Ukraine and closer to home in places like Venezuela, many have been forced to flee for safety. Our immigration system was designed decades ago to respond to different challenges than we face today. It cannot withstand the current numbers passing through our border.

That’s why I’ve worked to enact bipartisan immigration reform that would secure our border. But this current partisan House proposal is not a real solution. It ignores one necessary truth — we need immigrants and the benefits they bring to our country.

We currently have a worker shortage in this country, which is driving up consumer prices and driving down production. When I’m on the road in Illinois, I hear how desperately employers need skilled workers to fill critical jobs in industries like health care and agriculture.

The key to solving these problems is immigration reform — when given the opportunity, immigrants choose lawful pathways, contribute to our economy and revitalize our communities.

Some are even members of our local law enforcement agencies, like one of my constituents, Mitchell Soto-Rodriguez. Mitchell first came to Blue Island, Ill., from Mexico City as a 9-year-old with her family. Once here, she worked hard to make Illinois her home and contribute to her community. Mitchell is a beneficiary of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This program allows many who were brought here as children through no fault of their own an opportunity to work legally.

When she was a sophomore in high school, Mitchell was in a car accident with her mother and sister. The responding police officer made an impression by being respectful. That experience inspired Mitchell to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Blue Island understands the value of immigrants and permits DACA recipients like Mitchell to work as police officers. Today, Mitchell serves her community as a part-time police officer while attending the police academy and working as a security officer at a high school.

During the pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients served as “essential critical infrastructure workers.” But DACA was always intended to be a temporary solution, a Band-Aid on our broken immigration system.

The permanent solution is enacting legislation like the one I introduced more than two decades ago: the Dream Act. It would provide a path to citizenship for those brought to the United States as children and allow them to continue contributing to their communities through their work as teachers, medical professionals, servicemembers and so much more.

Our job in Congress is to fix our immigration laws. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’m prepared to work with Republicans to rewrite the laws that have failed us in the past.

Ten years ago, I was part of the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of eight senators who wrote an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support and 68 votes. It would have helped us avoid the current situation. But the Republican-led House refused to take it up.

Ten years later, we are still in the same position as in 2013, with House Republicans refusing to work on bipartisan legislation that could help fix our broken immigration system.

I am ready to negotiate with anyone who wants to fix our immigration system. But the House Republicans’ partisan proposal would do nothing to achieve that goal.

So, I suggest the following: Rather than using government funding as a political tool at the expense of the American people, my colleagues in the House should come to the table and work with us on a truly bipartisan solution. One that provides funding to the officials securing our border and allows those coming to this country to better themselves and contribute to our nation when they have gone through the correct channels.

Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin has represented Illinois since 1997. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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