There is a consensus in the United States today that our immigration system is broken. The question is "What is required to fix it?"
It is clear that more of the same will not work.
There are an estimated 11 million undocumented persons living and working in the United States today. Smugglers, traffickers and criminals preying on undocumented migrants have a growing negative impact on border communities.
Nearly 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross our border from the south from 1998 through 2003, and nearly 400 migrants continue to die at our borders every year.
America needs comprehensive immigration reform that will make immigration safe, orderly and legal. Such reform must provide three things:
* an opportunity for people already living and working here to earn permanent legal status;
* a new temporary worker program with adequate labor protections, so that essential workers can enter the U.S. safely, legally and expeditiously;
* backlog reductions in family-based immigration so that families can unite in a timely way.
Proposals that fail to embrace these components and seek only to increase enforcement of the current system will only exacerbate current problems.
Congress may enact harsh enforcement measures, such as the Sensenbrenner bill passed in the House of Representatives, which do nothing to increase our nation's security. Such measures only increase the pressures on hardworking but undocumented immigrants and force them to seek dangerous paths of entry to the U.S., where increasing numbers will die attempting to cross.
Or Congress can engage the debate and enact realistic and comprehensive reform, which will ensure the U.S. remains a nation of immigrants in the decades to come.
Deborah Notkin is president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. - NU