Governor scolds Congress

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By Governor Janet Napolitano
(Special to Latino Perspectives)

With the shift in focus to the Presidential election, it may seem as though the issue of illegal immigration may have slid to the back burner.  Perhaps that is true for the rest of the nation, but it remains very much a front-burner issue in Arizona. For those of us who must deal daily with the reality of our broken immigration system, we clearly see the problems created by Washington’s lack of action on this issue.

Examples are numerous. Our county jails are full of people who are part of smuggling syndicates; our porous borders allow these criminal enterprises to thrive; migrants continue to die in the desert; our economy, especially in agriculture, is in need of laborers who want to work here, but can’t come to this country legally.

But lack of interest by the federal government and the national media doesn’t make the issue go away. It’s up to us to force official Washington to look at the border – again and again – until they deliver what we need: real, comprehensive reform of the federal policies and laws that cover immigration into this country.

The real irony is that, over the past year, we have seen a reduction in the amount of illegal immigration into Arizona, thanks in part to an increase in federal support through Operation Jump Start. OJS allowed the National Guard to work, strictly in a support role, in Southwestern states including Arizona.

Yet, just as this project begins to show promise, the federal government is about to let it die. OJS will end on July 15. Sadly, it is typical of the federal governments approach, in recent years, to this complex problem: address it only in part, then walk away.

We need a thorough and sustained overhaul. It is clear to me what a rational immigration system must look like: it should restore law and order to the border, but also recognize that right now, it’s too hard for law-abiding foreign workers to enter the United States legally. We need a modern visa system and a temporary worker program that allows non-citizens to legally enter the country, work, and then return home.

It’s also too hard for people who are here legally, working on their education, to stay after they’ve completed their degrees. The demand for high-tech, high-knowledge workers is enormous, yet our laws prevent these people from contributing to our economy.

The 12 or 13 million immigrants currently in this country illegally should be required to register, pay penalties, and work toward the privilege of staying – because mass deportations are wrong and simply infeasible.

A workable border reform should promise real border security that has adequate funding – not a “wall” that will supposedly solve all our problems – so that local communities are no longer strained by illegal traffic. And while we deal with the difficulties of immigration reform, it is inhumane to split apart families or take a broken system out on children.

While we wait for Washington to get its act together, there are some things we are doing on a state level to fight our immigration problems. We’re working to take the fight to the drug traffickers and human smugglers who use violence as tools of the trade, targeting their funds and the drop-houses they use to stash their human cargo in poor conditions. We’re taking the lead and volunteering to pilot reforms to America’s broken temporary worker program, which would allow willing workers from other countries to take jobs in our agricultural sector, where workers are desperately needed.

These are concrete actions; yet, we know that no single state can solve what is ultimately a federal problem. Stand with me, and let’s keep the pressure on Washington to give us true progress, rather than overheated chatter. Ultimately, we can’t take our eyes off the goal: leadership on the federal level that can fix our broken borders once and for all.

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