Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and a group of like-minded panelists made the case for immigration reform Tuesday night at a community forum in Arlington.
Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.
In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.
“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”
Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)
Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.
Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.
“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”
Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Don Lyster, director of the Washington office of the National Immigration Law Center, said that the current immigration reform proposal includes sufficient “penalties” — application fees — for undocumented immigrants seeking residency, while instituting a “high criminal bar” to ensure that immigrants who commit serious or numerous crimes are booted out of the country.
Meanwhile, added tax revenue from legalized immigrants would outstrip the added cost of Social Security and other government benefits by 2 to 1, said Oakford.
Gabrielle Jackson, of Alexandria, gave a more personal appeal for immigration reform.
Jackson spoke before the panel discussion An undocumented immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago who was brought to the United States as a young child, she recently was granted a two-year work authorization under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“I spent my whole time growing up knowing that one day I would make a valuable contribution to American society,” said Jackson, who’s now working as a mental health worker. “This about being able to give back and reinvesting into the country that we love.”
“I grew up undocumented, I grew up living in fear that all I have, all that I am would be taken away because I don’t have a piece of paper,” she said as her husband, a U.S. citizen, looked on. ”It’s easy to see this as a non-issue… as a Latino issue, as an immigrant issue… but you forget about the families, the best friends, the church members. This is not just one community’s issue, this is affecting everybody.”