What Needs to Be Done to Pass Immigration Reform?

With Congressional leaders refusing to see eye-to-eye, our communities are paying the price. I'm not simply referring to the effects of the government shutdown. I'm talking about our elected leaders' inability to pass immigration reform.

A June poll by Partnership for a New American Economy, the Alliance for Citizenship and Republicans for Immigration Reform showed broad support among Americans for fixing our broken immigration system. The dissent is in the details of such policies, but we all want to move forward with identifying ways we can make life better for all immigrants--new and old.

Over the past year, hundreds have risked deportation to draw attention to the immediate need for reform. Brave undocumented immigrants have protested at our country's borders or been arrested in front of the White House. I have seen DREAMers' moms staging sit-ins inside House Speaker John Boehner's office. Activists also have held countless regional town halls and coordinated legislative visits for reform advocates. Despite the actions of thousands nationwide, our congressional leaders have yet to pass immigration reform policies.

We will take action again Tuesday, October 8. I and other Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders will join hundreds of others who will march down the National Mall to support immigration reform and take part in a civil disobedience effort that will put us at risk for arrest. We want to send a message: We are not your model minority. We are fellow Americans ready to take action to better our country for the sake of all immigrants.

Speaker Boehner and the House need to face reality: We cannot afford to wait any longer for comprehensive immigration reform. Millions of Americans wait to be reunited with their families and finally live beyond the shadows. As an American citizen, I demand that Congress pass legislation that will provide a fair and inclusive pathway to citizenship, uphold worker rights, regardless of immigration status, reunite families and demilitarize our borders.

Last fall, we showed the nation that we are a tremendous political force; and 74 percent of AAPIs voted to re-elect President Obama. We support his policies, including the need to mend a broken immigration system.

Our country cannot turn its back on the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants--aspiring citizens--living in the shadows. Many pay taxes but because they are paid "under the table," they cannot access benefits that they help pay for.

Undocumented immigrants are not the only ones who are being exploited. Thousands of temporary workers, recruited from abroad to toil in the U.S., are underpaid. Often, their employers use their temporary status to intimidate and cheat them out of their fair wages. Consider the case of Ingrid Cruz--one of 300 Filipino teachers lured to Louisiana through the H1-B visa system by U.S.-based recruiters with a criminal history. She was duped into paying thousands of dollars for her job. When she arrived in the U.S., she was a victim of abuse and indentured servitude. She also was under constant threat of deportation if she ever spoke out about her situation. Loopholes in the immigration system allow recruiters to exploit the lack of regulations and prey on foreign workers like Ingrid. All workers, regardless of status, do not deserve such abuse.

Our loved ones are also suffering. About 4 million are stuck in the family visa backlog and spend years waiting to enter this country to join their families.

Have our congressional leaders forgotten that this is a nation of immigrants? America is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all men and women are created equal. How we treat new immigrants reflects our commitment to the values that define America and how we define American.

Thousands of voters have urged Congress to act. If they do not, one thing is certain: If Congress does not meet our demands, we will elect members who will.

Gregory Cendana is currently the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and as Chair for the Labor Coalition for Community Action. Follow him on twitter at @GregoryCendana.