The U.S. Senate's bipartisan "Gang of 8" immigration reform bill, like most recent immigration reform initiatives, is meant primarily to protect the United States' territorial and legal integrity. However, it has been carefully watched in Latin America, the source of the majority of unauthorized immigrants to the U.S. Perhaps surprisingly, there is much in the bill we can agree on.
Make no mistake, it's a tough bill: It emphasizes verification, tracking, and border security. But tough times demand such measures. The current system is broken across the board. It is broken for the American taxpayers for sure. But it is also broken for the majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants who have been settled in the U.S. for more than a decade. We, too, want a system that is fair and that safeguards the rights of our people who emigrate to the U.S.
In accordance with Ecuador's ideology of "Buen Vivir," through which the Ecuadorian government guarantees to protect and promote the rights of our citizens at home and abroad, the embassy I lead and our consulates across the U.S. are responsible for giving a voice to Ecuadorian citizens that for legal or systematic reasons are ostracized by the host country. The current immigration system has indeed alienated the many thousands of Ecuadorian immigrants who languish in legal limbo, and lacks sufficient barriers against discrimination. In the absence of federal solutions, states such as Arizona have enacted immigration enforcement laws that leave the door open to racial profiling and harassment of all people of color whether they are citizens or not.
The core provisions of the Gang of 8 bill are actually consistent with our country's focus on the well-being and respect of human rights. The bill includes a provision that allows undocumented immigrants to eventually gain citizenship -- with particular focus on young people and agricultural workers. Further, the bill includes a section that better prohibits discrimination based on national origin or citizen status, which will improve the rights of immigrants in the workplace.
The path up to this remarkable bipartisan legislation has been long and painstaking. Last summer, I signed an agreement with former Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis that committed the U.S. and Ecuador to improving the lives and protecting the rights of migrant workers through partnerships with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its Wage and Hour Division. This agreement reflects the same commitment to the rights of migrants and refugees that we have in Ecuador.
Passage of the Gang of 8 bill is by no means assured, particularly after the bombings in Boston called attention to the profound security implications of the immigration system. But by going after the root problems of the broken system while addressing the political complexities of immigration reform, it represents the best hope yet for justice for millions of immigrants and their U.S. hosts.
Ecuador takes a proactive role in providing support for Ecuadorians who have immigrated to the U.S. and provides technical training grants, and educational assistance to Ecuadorian immigrants abroad. We work with local governments in key cities to co-finance technical educational and vocational training. Through these initiatives, we are enabling a more robust, educated, and valuable work force for both the U.S. and Ecuador.
As President Obama said during the 2012 campaign, Latin America and the U.S. will together help define the new century. The U.S. and Ecuador alone enjoy annual trade of $16 billion, and we cooperate on important and successful counter-narcotics programs. For decades, migration between the U.S. and Ecuador has enriched both our countries culturally, economically, and politically. By addressing the immigration issue, we establish finally the human value of our regional interrelationship. Let us hope that Congress and the administration support their efforts and put in place a comprehensive immigration reform that will protect all whose journeys bring them to this great country.