U.S. House should support path to citizenship

column-John-Keller-MUG-cby John Keller
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

There is consensus on fixing the broken immigration system in Minnesota and the 2nd District.

In the two decades since our country last updated our immigration system, voices for reform have grown beyond traditional political alliances. Bibles, Badges and Businesses, www.bbbimmigration.org, has come together in a unique way to support reform. Businesses need reform to modernize our outdated immigration system so that it matches 21st century economic realities. This reform would allow them to grow their businesses with both citizens and hard-working immigrants at the very moment baby boomers in Minnesota and nationally retire in record numbers. Evangelical Christians and nearly all major faith groups cite the moral imperative of fixing a broken system that currently separates U.S. citizen children from parents. Finally, law enforcement supports helping the undocumented come out of the shadows, get registered with the government, and strengthen our economy and neighborhoods.

As executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, I am a member of a coalition of 35 Minnesota business, faith, labor, legal and community organizations working together for common sense immigration reform in 2013.  I have had the privilege of witnessing these diverse groups, which range from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and dairy farmers to the Minnesota Catholic Conference and Evangelicals to the AFL-CIO and SEIU, unite for the common good around one single issue: fixing our broken immigration system. These disparate voices worked hard to help create the momentum that led the Senate to overwhelmingly (68 votes) pass bipartisan immigration reform with an earned pathway to citizenship in June. Now, the nation waits for serious and committed action in the House of Representatives to reform all aspects of a system that nearly everyone agrees is broken.

Like on many key issues, the citizens of the U.S. are ahead of many politicians. Voters have reached consensus to fix the system regardless of party affiliation. In my district, Minnesota’s 2nd, Public Policy Polling recently found that 77 percent of voters — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — all wanted to see action on immigration reform this year. In the same poll, the bill passed by the Senate which includes a rigorous, 13-year pathway to citizenship received support from 66 percent of 2nd District Republican voters.

These polls are backed up by my personal experience talking with 2nd District voters about the need for reform. In early August, more than 20 volunteers knocked on doors in Burnsville and had over 100 conversations about immigration reform. Almost all the neighbors we spoke to acknowledged that the status quo is unacceptable and agreed Congress needs to change our broken system. The key to such broad ranging support lies in the details of the biggest portion of the Senate bill’s compromise – a road map to earned legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants. This tough but fair compromise sets out a 13-year process requiring the undocumented to pass several background checks, pay any outstanding taxes and over $2,000 in fines and fees, pass an English and civics examination, and prove continuous employment in the U.S.

With such overwhelming consensus, U.S. Rep. Kline, R-Burnsville, and the House of Representatives must act in 2013 to bring a vote on all aspects of our broken system, especially on the issue of creating a system where immigrants can eventually become the U.S. citizens they aspire to be.

John Keller is executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.