Former Gov. Jeb Bush showed himself to be out of step with the emerging consensus in Washington, D.C. that we should not address the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants, some of whom have been in the country for decades, by creating a permanent underclass.
Many viewed Bush as a moderate voice in the Republican Party on immigration, but according to his new book, "It is absolutely vital to the integrity of our immigration system that actions have consequences — in this case, that those who violated the law can remain but cannot obtain the cherished fruits of citizenship." He has since been backtracking from the position in his book, written last year.
But actions do have consequences.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million people who have lived and worked here in the shadows for years, making significant contributions to our communities.
People come to America to create a better life for themselves and their families and because they are inspired by our ideals — among them, that anyone, regardless of background or national origin, can become an equal member of society. Squandering this opportunity and dishonoring our values by institutionalizing second-class status would transform America into a country where certain people are forever excluded.
Commendably, Sen. Rubio and the bipartisan "gang of eight" of which he is a member, along with President Obama, recognize that citizenship is an essential part of immigration reform. These key senators and the President have emphasized a roadmap to citizenship, not just for the DREAMers or high-skilled workers, but for all of the 11 million people in our country who aspire to become citizens.
But while we applaud political leaders for proposing a roadmap to citizenship, we are concerned about some of the roadblocks in Sen. Rubio's proposal — namely his requirement that the governors of states along the Mexican border must certify that the border is "truly secure" before any action is taken to allow people to become citizens. This trigger requirement is costly, unnecessary, and could postpone the timeline indefinitely.
We already spend more money on immigration enforcement — on the border and in the interior — than all other federal law enforcement combined. Our borders are as secure as they have been in 40 years. We have met and exceeded the benchmarks for border enforcement in previous immigration bills from 2006, 2007, and 2010, including the number of Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol officers, the length of the border fence, the number of surveillance cameras and drones, and the number of detention beds. And, this is at a time when net migration to the U.S. is at or below zero.
President Obama's harsh enforcement policies have resulted in the deportation of 1.5 million individuals over the last four years, more than under any other President in a single term. Further, contrary to the administration's claims it is focusing on the worst of the worst, over three quarters of the individuals targeted for deportation and nearly one half of those who were actually deported had no criminal record at all, and a significant proportion of the remainder committed only low-level offenses, like traffic violations.
The heavy emphasis on enforcement has had a devastating effect on families — over 200,000 people deported over a two-year period were parents of U.S. citizen children. It has also been wasteful. We detained 429,000 people in civil immigration detention last year at a cost of $2 billion, even though a great number of these individuals pose no danger to the community and are not a flight risk.
We admire Sen.Rubio's commitment to enacting immigration reform that will provide a roadmap to citizenship. But insisting on further enforcement first with no clearly defined threshold for what counts as a "truly secure" border as a precondition to citizenship is a mistake.
Instead, we should provide undocumented individuals with a straightforward, reasonable, and humane roadmap to citizenship, which will help restore proportionality and fairness to the immigration system.
Shalini Goel Agarwal is staff attorney, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida.
Note: This article originally appeared in the March 22nd edition of the Sun Sentinel. That post can be seen here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/opinion/fl-sacol-immigration-oped0322-20130322,0,5639524.story