U.S. Citizenship and immigration reform
U.S. Citizenship and immigration reform
By Hernán Padilla
As a US Citizen born in Puerto Rico, I am acutely aware of the nation’s need for an immigration reform and strongly support the growing consensus in Congress and throughout the country to craft a workable, humane solution to this troubling issue.
At the same time, it is important what Congress does about a related issue–the American citizens residing in Puerto Rico who suffer from geographic discrimination, since they do not have the same rights and responsibilities of the residents of the 50 States of the Union.
For the same reason, Puerto Ricans, as naturally born US citizens, have the moral responsibility to become actively engaged in the national debate on the comprehensive immigration reform.
Undocumented immigrants in the United States currently exceed 11 million. It is estimated that about 40% have stayed in the Country with legal visas that have already expired. Most undocumented immigrants are hardworking, dedicated and loyal members of our society, which like those of previous generations of immigrants, are in search of the American dream, aspire to a decent job, and look forward to prosperity and opportunity for their families
There is a clear need to enact a just, fair, and comprehensive reform of the immigration system that improves the legal process for immigrants who wish to legally come to the United States.
Among the first steps that must be taken, is to create a temporary classification for immigrants who want to legalize their work status. Technology must be brought to bear to improve the application for visas, as well as to track visitors during their stay in the US.
Our economy needs a steady flow of tens of thousands of temporary immigrants to work on seasonal agriculture, and agricultural related industries. To attend this population of temporary guest workers, a program is needed that identify and certify immigrant workforce needs for the different sectors of the economy.
The U.S. needs to attract a new pool of highly qualified immigrants to sustain the nation’s “knowledge economy”. The Nation stands to benefit from an improved system of visas for entrepreneurs and innovators that can promote the development of new businesses and industries that will create new jobs for Americans.
A legal mechanism has to be found that enables talented young immigrants to achieve their full potential, and, thus, permit them to contribute to our nation’s enterprise, without being deported.
The time has come to incorporate the “Dream Act” into a comprehensive federal immigration reform that will allow young people who meet the criteria to qualify and apply for permanent residence in the only nation that they know, and eventually, US citizenship.
The process of comprehensive immigration reform must also contain an effective system that stops unauthorized immigration in the future and identifies visitors that become illegal after their visit permits and visas expire.
American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico, independent of their birth place, should be treated equally, and with the same rights, opportunities and responsibilities of all other US citizens who reside in one of the 50 States.
The island’s anachronistic, inherently unjust territorial status was overwhelmingly rejected by its voters last November 6th. After almost 100 years have elapsed, since the residents of Puerto Rico received their American citizenship, it is a moral imperative that their geographic discrimination comes to an end.
If Puerto Ricans continue to be denied full citizenship, after 114 years of colonialism, and millions of new “naturalized persons” are given a tangible path toward full citizenship in the 50 states but not in Puerto Rico, how is the US Congress going to explain such preference to the free world, to civil rights advocates and to the US citizens living in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Ricans too are fighting for the right to be declared American citizens with all the constitutional rights and who will not be denied of the right to fully participate as equals in the democratic process at the national level.
Incorporating Puerto Rico as a full-fledged State of the Union, will guarantee that all American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico, including tens of thousands of naturalized citizens, are given the same rights that are being sought for immigrants under the immigration reform measures. After almost a century of loyally serving in the Armed Forces, and sharing the Nation in the good and bad times, they should no longer be denied full and equal protection under the US Constitution and participation in the national government.
Hernán Padilla, M.D. is a former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico and former President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He is the current President of Igualdad (Equality), a non-partisan organization dedicated to advancing Puerto Rico’s statehood cause.
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