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All would benefit from real immigration reform

and Michelle Glass

Imagine this. You have lived in the Rogue Valley for years. You and your spouse each work at least one job and sometimes two to make ends meet. Taxes are taken out of your paychecks, along with contributions to Social Security and Medicare. You shop at local businesses. You teach your children the value of work, respect, and treating your neighbors as you want to be treated.

Now, add one technicality, and a whole lot changes. While many of your neighbors' families came to this country a long time ago, you immigrated more recently, are labeled "illegal," and have no clear path to citizenship.

What does it mean to be denied legal status? It means your boss can pay you less than the work is worth, and you are afraid to say anything. You and your kids are afraid that you could be deported at any time — a nightmare that has happened to hundreds of thousands of families just in the past two years. You can't receive benefits you earned and your tax dollars paid for. You can't apply for affordable health insurance under Cover Oregon, even though you are ready and willing to pay the premiums.

Thousands of Oregonians are in this situation — and all of us pay the price. Denying a path to citizenship for large numbers of working people drives down pay and benefit standards, which means less money to support other jobs in local businesses. It makes people afraid to go to law enforcement officials with information that would help them keep our neighborhoods safe. It means many adults and children either aren't getting health care or are getting it in emergency rooms — the most expensive, inefficient way to maintain public health.

No wonder that for many years, public opinion polls have consistently shown that a large majority of Americans favors immigration reform that would provide hard-working, law-abiding, taxpaying people a clear path to citizenship.

Just last month, a professional poll commissioned by three national Republican organizations found that 73 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship contained in a bill passed in June by a bipartisan 68-32 majority in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier last year, a poll of small businesses in Oregon and other Western states commissioned by the Main Street Alliance and the American Sustainable Business Council found that 78 percent favor a clear path to citizenship. The result was particularly notable given that the poll found small business operators were twice as likely to be Republicans than Democrats.

So if big majorities see that everyone in the U.S. would benefit from no longer keeping a large number of working families in legal limbo, why hasn't common-sense immigration reform been adopted?

The answer is that the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives, including National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., has refused to put it to a vote. Why?

There are two obvious reasons. One is that if hard-working immigrants became citizens, they would have the same right to vote as other Americans and to hold politicians accountable when they represent the interests of Wall Street and other big corporations instead of working people and small businesses.

A second is that scapegoating immigrant workers and families has been a favorite political game for many years, and some politicians are reluctant to give it up. A classic example of this is the upcoming measure on Oregon's November ballot regarding driver's cards.

Last April, the Oregon Legislature voted to provide driver's cards — not an actual license — to immigrants who have resided in the state for at least a year, pass the driving and written tests, pay their fees, have proof of insurance and meet all other requirements. As retired Hillsboro police Chief Ron Louie explained, "This law will reduce accidents, make our roads safer, and protect everyone using our roads from preventable injury or financial losses."

The bill passed with bipartisan majorities of 20-7 in the Oregon Senate and 38-20 in the Oregon House of Representatives. Yet, it has been blocked from going into effect. A leading funder of extremist right-wing causes, Nevada millionaire Loren Parks, has already contributed at least $43,604 to put a measure on the November ballot that would overturn the driver safety law.

Obstructionism and game-playing on immigration issues has gone on long enough. Please join us in telling a minority of politicians to stop blocking action that will benefit us all.

Virginia Camberos is regional organizer and Michelle Glass is outreach director for Rogue Valley Oregon Action, an advocacy group on economic issues affecting working people.