Akaka favors immigration law that shows compassion to Hawaii's families
OUR BROKEN immigration system has been a hot topic this year. National attention on the issue has been sparked by the passage of a harsh immigration bill by the House of Representatives, and hundreds of thousands of people on the mainland have marched in the streets in protest. The person who becomes our senator will have a major effect on how our immigration laws are changed, for the better or for worse. Immigration is not only a national issue, but also a deeply personal issue for us in Hawaii.
The House passed an enforcement-only immigration bill, HR 4437 last December. Congressman Ed Case voted in favor of that bill. The bill was cosponsored by 35 Republicans and only one Democrat. Congressman Neil Abercrombie voted against HR 4437. The Senate passed its immigration bill, S 2611, in May. Sen. Daniel Akaka voted in favor of that bill, as did Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Both bills contain tough enforcement provisions. However, in addition to enforcement, the Senate bill deals with immigration reform in a comprehensive manner and recognizes the need for a balanced-approach to fixing our immigration laws.
For example, as many of our citizens in Hawaii know, Asian countries suffer from some of the worst immigration backlogs in the world. U.S. citizens must wait 14 years to bring their unmarried adult sons or daughters from the Philippines. For a brother or sister, the wait is 23 years! The Senate bill would significantly increase the number of family visas, shortening the wait to within six years.
While some worry about granting so-called "amnesty" to illegal immigrants, the Senate bill does not do this. Rather, among other things, it requires undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years to pay significant fines, pay back taxes, demonstrate knowledge of English and civics, and pass background checks. It deals with our broken system in a realistic and humane manner. At the same time, it enhances national security by identifying the people who are here. The Senate bill would provide millions of undocumented immigrants the ability to come out of the shadows and to embark on a path to permanent residence after meeting strict criteria. The current Senate bill is crafted so that they would go to the back of the line and would not cut ahead of those currently waiting for their green cards.
In contrast, Congressman Case voted in support of House Bill HR 4437, which focuses only on enforcement provisions and contains no provisions addressing the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to our immigration system. The bill would do nothing to reunite families stuck in the outdated quota system. In fact, it would criminalize assisting any undocumented immigrant, making criminals of priests, teachers and healthcare professionals.
In his immigration position paper, Case concedes that "Only a comprehensive and integrated solution will hold over time" and "Legal immigration should be accelerated, especially for family reunification." However, his vote for HR 4437 speaks louder than his words. By voting for this bill, Case sent us a message that he truly does not care about reuniting families or about honoring our heritage as a nation of hard-working immigrants.
How Congress changes our immigration laws will have a serious, long-term effect on the lives of us all. Immigrant children, their families, U.S. employers, and our nation will suffer tremendously if Congress decides that politics is more important than a realistic and effective immigration policy. We are very concerned that if elected to the Senate, Case would continue his support for get-tough-only legislation that is high on symbolism, but short on workable solutions. We hope you will consider a vote for Akaka to pursue a more sensible and workable path that will ensure that we fix our nation's broken immigration system.
The authors are Hawaii attorneys who practice immigration law.