Civically Engaging with Alex Zank

Immigration reform is a local issue being treated as a distant one

Story by Alex Zank, OP/Ed Editor

For the last year or so, our national government seems to be always on the verge of action with immigration reform. We hear good news — a bipartisan deal in the Senate or a formation of a “Gang of X” senators — then we’re almost as swiftly disappointed with more Congressional indecision.

For now, immigration seems to be on the back burner (again), as House Speaker John Boehner claims it won’t be able to get through the lower legislative body. The issue cannot be put off any longer, as so many industries and local economies rely heavily on immigrant populations.

Western Wisconsin, an agricultural stronghold, is one of these areas. Many farms rely on immigrant workers to do difficult work that not many others would even consider taking. An issue with so much national coverage is an issue we’re dealing with in our own neighborhood. Immigration reform will have a direct impact on us.

It’s in our best interest to see immigration reform ultimately making America a more immigration-friendly nation. For all you xenophobes out there, I’m not suggesting that we force everyone to learn Spanish — although it’d be nice if people would stop tweeting “this is America, learn to speak American” in reaction to things as simple as a multilingual advertisement.

What I am suggesting, however, is we do need to: 1.) admit that our economy is better off with immigrants of skill levels calling America home, and 2.) ensure people who want to immigrate here have as easy a transition as possible, but with proper security protocol, of course.

It may seem radical to some that I’d favor smooth entry of new citizens to this country with as little red tape as possible, but it really isn’t. And my reasoning is not because I’m some bleeding heart that wants to take in all the weak and unfortunate souls in the world.

Immigration poses a great potential opportunity for both migrant populations and the host country. As long as there is a demand for jobs in a sector and these people fill that demand, both the producers in the industry seeking these workers as well as the consumers of this industry benefit (not to mention the workers themselves).

Before you throw the anemic job growth and unemployment rate at me, please think about it first. Do you see lines of unemployed people lining up for jobs in the agriculture industry? No. In fact, it’s hard to get anyone to work these jobs. And farms need laborers to produce their goods.

Low-skilled immigrant workers (the title is not meant as an insult; I’m just using an economic term) are filling this demand. And the consumers of these goods have them to thank for it.

The same goes for immigrants looking to work in highly specific, high-skilled jobs. They do the same thing essentially, filling demand in fields which most of us do not qualify.

So the real problem that immigration reform needs to address is the severe backlog of applicants waiting to gain legal access to this country.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs releases monthly statements of the backlog of visa applications. For those having family-sponsored preferences (they have a relative living in the U.S.), the priority dates go as far back as 1993.

For example, if you were an unmarried child of a legal resident and age 21 or older (that’s a lot of us students) and were trying to gain legal status to immigrate from Mexico, I hope you applied on or before May 1, 1993. Otherwise, you’ve got a while to wait.

The backlog of employment-based applications aren’t quite as bad, although some have priority dates reaching as early as September of 2003.

Instead of getting caught up on whether to build a fence, grant all current undocumented immigrants amnesty or which side of the political aisle is “winning” on the immigration reform showdown, what is truly alarming is this backlog.