My Turn: America needs a firm, fair immigration policy

Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2014
Three elements characterize a functional immigration system: clarity, enforcement of the rule of law and fairness. Today in America, sadly, none of these three characteristics epitomize our immigration system.

Even sadder still, perhaps, is the lack of will to tackle our challenges. President Obama, the one person who could lead an effort for reform and enforce our border security, appears much more interested in using the issue for his political advantage than making a difference. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are powerless to make needed changes without cooperation.

The result? An immigration system that rewards illegal immigrants at the expense of legal immigrants; thousands of foreign-born young children who cross into the U.S. on the assumption that they will be accepted; and an extremely porous, dangerous border.

Creating a predictable, fair and well-enforced immigration system can help restore the American dream.

New Hampshire is a place that fosters hope in the American dream, a dream that people from all over the world seek. My maternal grandparents were just such people. A little more than a half-century ago, they left Italy – a country that was still struggling to rebuild after the reign of Mussolini – setting course for the United States.

My mom was a young child when her family moved across the Atlantic, settling in Massachusetts where my grandfather worked in a factory and my grandmother as a seamstress. My mom encountered challenges early on as she adapted to new life in a new land. Teachers considered holding her back in grade school because her English needed improvement, but she persevered and ultimately graduated – salutatorian of her high school class. She then graduated from Tufts University, married, is a high school teacher and has passed on that passion for service and achievement to her children, which include an Air Force captain and doctor, an accomplished musician and Fulbright Scholar, and a candidate for Congress.

My grandparents – and millions of immigrants like them over the centuries – embody the spirit of American idealism: their search for freedom and a better life for themselves and their families.

Today our nation is facing a great challenge of what to do with the thousands of individuals streaming into our country illegally through our porous southern border, including children who immediately invoke protections under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. As the child of a first-generation American, I can appreciate the optimism of these new arrivals and the hope of a better life.

But we are a nation of laws. And our immigration laws should be enforced. The president has flouted the letter and spirit of these laws by refusing to secure the border and governing by decree, without the consent of Congress.

Right now there are literally thousands of foreign-born young children – in the care of the U.S. government – being housed along the southern border and in places throughout the country. These children, often without their parents, are claiming asylum under DACA.

The thought of these frightened children so far from home without their parents breaks my heart. And as an American, I know that we all agree these kids should be treated with compassion while they are here.

But I believe the necessary action is to send these children back to their families and homes.

Preventing future illegal immigration requires us to guarantee there is no amnesty for illegal immigrants. We also must prevent President Obama from using “executive amnesty,” and work towards pragmatic and security-based solutions that encourage legal immigration. The president’s proclivity to selectively enforce existing laws, and then make up his own when he sees fit, is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.

America deserves a firm and fair approach to immigration, with leaders who will bring about real progress at securing our border and addressing the other problems with our legal immigration system.

It’s time we stand up and demand not only a smart and safe immigration policy, but also honorable leaders who have a real interest in solving the issues that are important to us.

As a daughter who has heard the stories about the challenges and blessings of coming to this country – legally – I want to ensure that America remains the beacon of hope and opportunity for others to enjoy for generations to come.

(State Rep. Marilinda Garcia is a Salem Republican running in the 2nd Congressional District.)