The president is going to Las Vegas Tuesday to bet on the American people.
He's betting that Americans are ready to fix the broken immigration system that inhibits business, hurts families, and relegates millions of mothers, fathers, and promising youth to a life in the shadows. He is betting that Americans will look beyond the hateful rhetoric of the restrictionists and stand with him to find solutions which will keep the border safe, protect American families, and give American business the tools it needs to remain globally competitive into the 21st century and beyond.
Tuesday the nation will be listing carefully to what he says. Here are five things I hope we hear:
I will build a business and family friendly visa system
It's cliché to describe the immigration system as broken. But what does that mean? How is it broken and how does that hurt Americans? One of the best examples is the unworkable visa quotas that keep families separated and businesses unable to hire workers for shortage occupations. For example, the Department of Labor has certified there are not enough registered nurses in the United States. But the law doesn't provide enough visas to bring nurses to the U.S. to tend to Americans in need of care. In fact, a registered nurse must wait in line in for years to immigrate. When the government certifies a shortage of much needed health care workers, yet is hamstrung by the law from filling it, that's dysfunction that needs to be fixed.
I will design a temporary worker program that protects U.S. workers and takes into account America's future economic needs
If all the foreign workers who toil in America's agricultural fields, hotels, and restaurant kitchens stopped working -- even for a day -- the entire country would suffer. Lettuce wouldn't find its way to the grocery stores, beds wouldn't get made in hotels, and restaurants would be unable to serve their patrons. Many who oppose immigration reform point to the Reagan Amnesty of 1986 as the cause for the proliferation of undocumented immigrants that followed in the 25 years since. But the problem with the 1986 law was not legalization, it was its failure to include a well designated temporary worker program designed to ensure there would be enough workers for shortage occupations in the future.
I will restore due process to the immigration system
The nation's immigration courts are badly constrained by rigid and unforgiving laws. Often an immigration judge can do little more than bang the gavel and order a person deported -- even if he or she has lived legally in the U.S. for many years, raised a family, contributed to the community and otherwise led a good life. In the past immigration judges could consider the facts of a case and make a decision based on whether a person's good deeds in life outweighed his or her immigration violation. In 1997 that power was effectively stripped from the immigration courts. The immigration system, and the country as a whole, would be better served if immigration judges once again had the power to do what judges do -- make decisions based on due process and fair application of a just and humane law.
I will build a pathway to full inclusion for qualified undocumented immigrants
Last, but not least, there are millions and millions of immigrants who deserve to be brought into the mainstream of American life. These include not only the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows but non-citizens who have been granted temporary reprieves from deportation such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or deferred action and live here lawfully but who have no pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship. Any immigration overhaul should include a pathway to full inclusion into American society for those who qualify for a lawful status, but are stymied by partial or stop-gap solutions.
The re-election of Barack Obama sparked a paradigm shift in the national immigration debate. Not so much because the President strongly supported comprehensive immigration reform and rejected the inhumane policy of "self-deportation," but because his entire campaign was about inclusion; about celebrating America's diversity, its ability to embrace individuals of all ethnic backgrounds, religions and sexual preference.
Tomorrow President Obama has an historic opportunity to move this vision forward by articulating an immigration policy designed to keep American families safe and together, strengthen its economy, and enrich its culture.
Let's hope what he says in Las Vegas does not stay in Las Vegas.