AJC Immigration Summit Opens With Call for Reform

AJC Immigration Summit Opens With Call for Reform

June 6, 2011 – Washington, DC -- Immigration reform needs to be humane, just, effective and efficient. That was the message from the distinguished panelists addressing the opening session of AJC national summit on immigration, Building a Bridge to the Future.

The event featured Randel Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Alejandro Mayorkas, director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Mathew Staver, dean of the Law School at Liberty University; and David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Each favors a legal path to immigration for the estimated 12 million undocumented workers in the United States.

The three-day summit – part of AJC’s Bridging America Project, which trains and mobilizes leaders in strategic communities across the country — drew some 120 business leaders, labor union activists, government, law enforcement, health care officials and faith leaders.

Immigration “is an issue that transcends politics, that transcends economics,” said Leopold, who moderated yesterday’s session. “It’s about who we are as Americans, our culture, our borders and our values as Americans. And, it’s about where we’re going.”

A humane system wouldn’t have a U.S. citizen who wants to bring in a son, daughter or brother waiting 20 years to do so, said Leopold, nor would a business friendly policy have the Cleveland Clinic, for example, wait several years to bring in a qualified anesthesiologist, if that physician were from China.

Three overarching themes drive immigration policy, said Mayorkas – family unity, economic strength and humanitarian relief. The need for reform is “acute and immediate,” he said.

Mayorkas, who 50 years ago fled Cuba with his parents and sister, cited President Obama’s goals in fixing a broken immigration system, goals that include a path to citizenship and temporary work visas that would strengthen economic competition.

Johnson challenged Congress “to get ahead of the curve for a change so that when the economy improves,” an immigration reform “bill is ready.”

He said the Chamber of Commerce position “is pretty much what the president’s position is,” and outlined a need for secure borders, targeted immigration for undocumented students and expanded temporary worker visas.

Staver believes that the consensus on immigration is growing, saying there is more consensus than even two years ago.

“The A-word,” however, shuts down the debate, he said. “That A-word is amnesty.”

The choice, however, is not between complete amnesty and the deportation of undocumented immigration, which is “absolutely impractical and impossible to do.”

Rather, Staver, like the other panelists, favors an earned pathway toward citizenship, but he also advocates “some kind of penalty for breaking the law” and would want such individuals “to go to the back of the line.”

Johnson expressed his disappointment with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld Arizona’s employment law, which penalizes employers who knowingly and intentionally hire undocumented immigrants and mandates that state businesses use E-Verify, a voluntary federal system that allows employers to check employee immigration status.

The Chamber of Commerce had challenged the law. “It’s going to embolden many state legislatures to go forward with Arizona-type laws or even worse,” Johnson said. “It complicates negotiations on Capitol Hill on the scope of E-Verify.”

During the question-and-answer session, David Sperling, an immigration lawyer from Long Island, New York, wondered why the president didn’t enact administrative regulations to keep families together.

Such policies, Mayorkas said, should not be routinely used to “circumvent legislative intent.”

Leopold, though, countered that the law contains such provisions. “If anybody questions the use of those policies, the answer is we are using those policies to protect people.”

AJC has long supported fair and humane immigration policies out of our commitment to a democratic, just and pluralistic America that is secure and strong. The Jewish historical experience and understanding of the value of every human being underpins these positions. AJC's dedication to support and protect Jews leads us to build strong interreligious and intergroup relations, and support civil and human rights for all.

The AJC Immigration Summit is co-sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, Immigration Works USA, and Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and is funded by a generous grant from the Ford Foundation.Date: 6/6/2011 12:00:00 AM
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