America’s immigration system is broken. Inadequate pathways to legal immigration and ineffective law enforcement have contributed to millions of people living and working inside the United States without authorization, harming both American workers and undocumented immigrants. Despite the efforts of Democrats, the majority of Republicans chose to block the advancement of comprehensive immigration reform in the 109th and 110th Congresses in favor of the status quo. The American people, including those in the Latino community, deserve better. As Democrats move forward in the 110th Congress and prepare for an even brighter future, the nation can be assured Democrats will work for change to provide the tough, fair, and practical immigration reform our country so desperately needs.
Illegal immigration has skyrocketed in the last decade or more. As of 2006, approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants lived in the United States, up from 8.5 million in 2000, and from five million in 1996. Moreover, since it is estimated that nearly 500,000 new documented immigrants settle in the United States each year, it is likely that this number has increased during the past two years.
Inadequate paths tolegal immigration have incentivized illegal immigration. The majority of would-be immigrants want to migrate to the United States legally. Our current immigration laws, however, which provide for 5,000 permanent low-skilled work visas per year, have not kept up with the needs of the job market, which are estimated at approximately 100 times that allocation. Moreover, our family immigration system is so backlogged that many must wait years, in some cases decades, to be reunited with family members. For example, the Mexican spouse of a legal permanent resident waits an average of six years and a Mexican unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen waits an average of 16 years. Observers believe this mismatch of supply of legal means of entry and demand for immigration have become “powerful motivators for undocumented immigration.”
Years of costly, ineffective enforcement-only approaches have failed to curb unauthorized immigration. While strong and effective border, interior, and worksite enforcement is key to ending illegal immigration, enforcement without comprehensive reform is tantamount to maintaining the status quo. It has been tried, and it simply does not work. During the same period of skyrocketing illegal immigration: