No longer can the president of the United States defer dealing with immigration. While it was barely a campaign issue, for America to continue avoiding comprehensive immigration reform is plainly inexcusable.
When President Obama takes up immigration reform in 2013 he must make absolutely clear the reasoning driving many Latin American immigrants northward.
We created the impetus: American government policy and business interests drove the arrival of thousands of Latino immigrants to our border. This is where the president needs to educate the voting public.
From corporate-controlled "Banana Republics", to the Shock Doctrine, to Structural Adjustment Programs, to the myriad Free Trade deals, we gutted Latin American economies. We have intentionally undermined their elected democracies -- or replaced leftists tyrants with right wing tyrants -- most often in the name of "National Security." We have also aided and abetted the death of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the destruction of civil society.
We have a compelling responsibility, then, to make it right for Latin Americans already here in the U.S. and for those who live in Central and South America. We must stop lumping those already here all together as one. The American experience of the immigrant student, professional or laborer is disparate and vast.
We need a thoughtful, efficient, legal immigration process that is fair for all. This means that the DREAM Act must become a done deal. This also means we must get papers to the 12 million undocumented immigrants and bring them out the shadows.
We must stop vilifying Latin American leaders simply because they haven't integrated our brand of capitalism into their system. We must ensure that only fair trade deals are done going forward, ones that protect Latin American economies, labor populations and local environments. Ironically, if those things were implemented, citizens might not feel the need to come to the U.S. at all.
While this new approach to Latin American immigrants and Latin American countries would not assume to heal the harm of the last century's worth of misdeeds, it will go a long way in reestablishing trust and partnership with our neighbors in the South.
And here's the beautiful part: None of this will come at a cost to our country. It will only result in a net gain, economically and politically. We know from Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda's research at UCLA that comprehensive immigration reform would generate an increase in U.S. gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion over 10 years -- more than what is needed in Congress to counter the forthcoming fiscal cliff and sequestration.
Contrast this much-needed boon with the projected cost to our economy from an impractical and untenable mass deportation: The hit to our GDP would be well over $2.6 trillion over 10 years, a figure which doesn't include the actual cost of deportation.
This is much more than a matter of money, however. This is about how we define our country, how we relate to our neighbors and how we treat our citizens. If America wants to be a democratic beacon on a hill, it would be wise for it to build that beacon fairly and make sure it shines on all.
The underlying issue, for many Latin American immigrants, could be bigger than mere papers and documentation. It could be about how we've treated their country, their democracy, their economy, their workers and their environment. Here's our chance to do something to remedy the damage. A tall order, no doubt, but one we trust the president is prepared to tackle.
Sonia Manzano is the author of The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano published by Scholastic. Michael Shank is adjunct professor at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and senior fellow at the French American Global Forum.