Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Compassionate Immigration Reform

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

Compassionate Immigration Reform

Article excerpt


Ideals of comprehensive immigration reform have been co-opted by advocates of border and internal security and enforcement, leaving behind our aspirations as a compassionate nation of immigrants. Mindful of the tension between blind adherence to the rule of law and the goal of empathetic immigration policy, I suggest a refraining of comprehensive immigration reform as compassionate reform and sketch the details of this transformative policymaking approach.

Focusing on the life-threatening journey of undocumented immigrants and the perils they and their families face once inside the United States, I argue for a time-out on deaths at the border and on workplace immigration raids that split families apart. While supporting the expanded pathways to citizenship fostered by the federal DREAM and AgJOB Act proposals, ultimately I urge a return to the good neighbor Western Hemisphere exemption to immigration limits that existed until 1965. Realizing that the mood of the country has turned against immigrants, particularly those from Mexico, I conclude with suggestions as to how U.S. residents and policymakers might acquire empathy and thus the will to embrace compassionate immigration reform.


   To be hopeful in bad times is not
   just foolishly romantic. It is
   based on the fact that human
   history is a history not only of
   cruelty, but also of compassion,
   sacrifice, courage, kindness.

--Howard Zinn


   I. Compassion and the Rule of Immigration Law
       A. Immigrant Safety
       B. Welfare of Immigrant Families
       C. Rewarding Immigrant Initiative
       D. Honoring a Good Neighbor
   II. Restoring Compassion for Mexican Immigrants


The catchphrase "comprehensive immigration reform" has come to mean proposals that, among other goals, confront the status of undocumented immigrants presently in the United States, authorize additional temporary visas to address any labor needs that may arise, and better enforce our borders. Of these, in recent years border enforcement has gained the most traction in political circles. As evident in the 2008 presidential campaign, most hopefuls anchored any mention of comprehensive immigration reform in the bedrock of enforcement prerogatives, nearly always leading with rhetoric of "we've got to secure the borders first." (1) For example, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's website criticized then-president Bush for failing to allocate sufficient resources to protect the borders, while Barack Obama's campaign website urged sending "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology" to the borders. (2) Consistent with the prevailing enforcement emphasis, both Senators Clinton and Obama voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. (3) The main difference in immigration rhetoric among these politicians was that some Republican candidates, notably Tom Tancredo, offered so-called comprehensive immigration reform proposals rooted solely in enforcement. Because Tancredo remained "100% opposed to amnesty," (4) his answer to addressing the millions of undocumented workers in the United States apparently was mass deportation through vigorous internal enforcement. In essence, first we secure the borders, and then we secure them some more.

As discussion of immigration reform moved toward enforcement, that debate shifted to our southern border, leaving Mexican immigrants to represent the face of immigration. Arizona, the territory of Minutemen maneuvers, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Senate Bill 1070, is the new epicenter for U.S. immigration policy. Given the dominant role of Mexican immigration in numbers (5) and perception in the immigration debate, I offer my suggested reforms with Mexican immigrants foremost in mind. Still, many of my proposals extend to and resonate with other immigrant groups.

As the expression goes, "[s]how me your friends and I'll tell you who you are. …

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