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La Nacion, Argentina

US: The New Immigration Law
and Praise for Tolerance

By Héctor Zajac

Translated By Rachel Davenport

5 February 2013

Edited by Daye Lee

Argentina - La Nacion - Original Article (Spanish)

The framework agreement signed by eight senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — for a new immigration law suggests a difficult but fair path to citizenship for the almost 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. Once it becomes a bill, the initiative could be approved by the Senate by the middle of this year and and will then pass to the House for a final vote. The strong bipartisan consensus on some key points, as well as the momentum of the executive branch, gives the agreement a strong chance of becoming law by next year.

One of its fundamental pillars is seeking a solution to the problem of the legal and economic status of millions of people who do not pay taxes but, paradoxically, are an indispensable part of the country's economy.

The proposal also recommends creating a checking system that prevents identity theft and the employment of unauthorized workers.

Another point of the agreement is improving future workers' access to the market in accordance with the needs of those who manage the economy, “protecting”— according to the original text — both parties.

The topic has been part of Obama’s political agenda since before 2009, when it was still a mere campaign promise.

One wonders what that lead a nation going through one of the worst economic crises in its history to embark on a project with such controversial political implications. Though unpopular with some ultra-conservatives who blame immigrants for unemployment, and considered opportunistic by others, no one can deny the potential voting strength of the minorities among whose ranks undocumented immigrants are found.

In one study, researcher Elaine Levine from the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Center for Research on North America offered some significant data. Far from the much-preached competition, there exists a marked complementarity in the labor market. The vast majority of Latino illegal immigrants serve as unskilled manual labor in agriculture or manufacturing industries and perform jobs that several generations of American workers will not do. In the professional, skilled labor sector, the situation is reversed. Levine also observed that the high rate of school drop-outs in the Latino population is also a factor in the move toward immigration reform in spite of the political controversy.

If these arguments are not enough to affirm how essential illegal immigrants are to the U.S. economy, it is also worth considering the "compensatory" effect that the legalization of millions of young workers would have on the growing aging population. Their legalization would ease the burden of social security on the state and improve competitiveness of wages.

The president and “mainstream” American politicians are well-acquainted with these facts and have decided to act. Whether or not their proposed methods are the most appropriate ones is another consideration. One of the pillars of the agreement guarantees automatic residency to all foreign graduates with a postgraduate in local universities, which, in part, threatens the complementary relationship of the labor market suggested in the study.

The reason must be found in a fundamental idea deeply rooted in the American imagination: the idea that ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, among others, translate into wealth. This is no accident. It arises from the ideals of the French Enlightenment and is enshrined in the Constitution. A young nation with an abundance of land and resources urgently needed something of even more precious value — men to build it: the immigrants.

The U.S. is a complex and contradictory nation. Rodney King, apartheid in the southern states and the racial murders in Mississippi — too recent to be considered past events — mix with laws that are in favor of minorities such as Affirmative Action, a law that promotes positive discrimination and requires employers to offer jobs to African-Americans in the event that the applicants are equally qualified, and free bilingual education programs for ethnic minorities.

“America” is a deeply multicultural experience which millions of people are a part of or want to be. It lives and recreates itself daily and even has a name: “the melting pot,” a phrase that refers to an environment where “cultures and ethnicities merge without losing their own identity, becoming a unique and precious part of a larger whole, the Nation.”*

Argentinians should use this example to prompt ourselves to rethink our own views of foreign immigrants. A serious discussion requires abandoning the clichés with which we usually settle, and which have the chilling effect of painting ours as a country free of discrimination.

The other, no less important, aspect to consider is the way in which our politicians decry the inability of partisan politics to advance toward key goals and solve issues of national interest, something that in our country seems more elusive than the “American Dream.”

*Editor's Note: The source of the above quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.



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