THE BLOG

Congress Should Respect Our Great Nation of Immigrants

11/26/2014 02:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 26, 2015
  • Lee A. Saunders President, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO

President Obama's willingness to act on immigration while Congress dithers and delays is admirable. Many pressing national issues will be addressed as a result. Our borders will be more secure. The exploitation of workers by unscrupulous employers will be curtailed. Families will no longer live under the constant threat of being torn apart.

But President Obama's executive action is temporary. What our nation needs is for Congress to do its job and pass a bill. Only comprehensive immigration reform approved by Congress and signed by the President can permanently fix our nation's immigration system.

The cynics will tell you that it's not possible. That Congress is too broken, too partisan and too polarized to effectively legislate on any matter, let alone one as controversial and contentious as immigration. Considering the response from some extremist lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the days after President Obama announced his intention to act, the cynics have a point.

Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas called on Congress to punish the president by blocking all executive and judicial nominations. He even advocated for a repeat of the disastrous 2013 government shutdown.

Extremists in the House of Representatives retaliated by filing a lawsuit over the president's executive authority. Some called for impeachment.

The often offensive Rep. Michele Bachmann stated President Obama was now permitting "illiterate" foreigners to vote in American elections.

And instead of offering a plan to address the problem by doing what Congress was created to do, pass laws, House Speaker John Boehner gave us more politicking, saying, "With this action, the President has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek." The statement was stunningly disingenuous, considering Speaker Boehner spent the better part of the past 18 months delaying a vote on immigration reform.

It was not a great moment for our leaders who on Election Day just three weeks ago pledged to set aside partisanship and get to work on behalf of the American people.

Everyone agrees our entire immigration system is broken, hurting us all. It created an underground economy where employers pay immigrant workers next-to-nothing and avoid paying taxes. This depresses wages for all workers and deprives our communities of the revenue needed to provide quality public services.

At a time when American families are struggling to pay bills, reforming the immigration system and creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living on the margins would increase wages for everyone. This is not just about immigrant families; it is about all of our families.

You can't really blame people for giving up on Congress when every indication is that Congress has given up on us. But I still believe in our democracy and in our nation's ability to come together and solve the tough problems.

We are a people with conscience. And as a nation of immigrants we have long memories for the great adversity our own ancestors faced when they first reached these shores. We must demand our elected leaders agree on compassionate, realistic and permanent immigration reform that honors the legacy they left to us.