By Rep. Karen Bass
With all the heated rhetoric surrounding immigration reform it's fair to ask if some in Washington fully understand the many contributions undocumented immigrants make to our country.
So it's no surprise that when news surfaced of Republicans working on legislation to help the children of undocumented immigrants, advocates and Democrats alike have been cautious in their response. Is this a genuine attempt at reform or the latest example of how out of touch some Republican lawmakers have been in understanding the true needs of children during the immigration reform debate?
Republican lawmakers have begun drafting the KIDS Act, which would provide legal status for the children of undocumented immigrants. The bill is not expected to be exactly like the DREAM Act House Democrats passed in 2010, but news reports suggest the Republican bill will include many of the same elements.
While we wait to see what the final Republican bill will look like, it's important to make sure we stay focused on doing what's best for families. Legislation helping children of undocumented immigrants to gain legal status would be a huge step in the right direction, but what good is any legislation that helps children if we also promote laws that are unfair and harsh to their parents?
The understanding that the needs of children are best met by standing up for their parents is a point of view my Republican colleagues on the far right seem to miss. That's particularly ironic given that the GOP prides itself on being the party of family values.
Various proposals put forth in the Republican House fail to provide permanent legal status or even the opportunity to earn citizenship for undocumented immigrants or spouses, which would lead to long-term separation of workers from their immediate family members.
Other proposals would slash farmworker wages and lead to dangerous living conditions, especially in rural communities where affordable temporary housing is difficult to find. When undocumented immigrants want to fight for unpaid wages or enforce their rights, they would be required to pay half of the arbitration costs. This would make it likely that many undocumented immigrants would be fearful of speaking out against exploitation or abuse out of concern that they might lose their jobs.
Some Republican proposals have even called for reversing the Obama Administration's delayed deportations policy for DREAMERS.
None of these policies would be in the best interest of children, even if the children themselves were granted legal status under the Republican KIDS Act. It's hypocritical to target legislation only toward children while simultaneously pushing proposals that hurt their parents. Children benefit from knowing the parents they rely on are getting the support they need to raise their families without the fear of being deported or exploitation while working to put food on the table.
This is why a comprehensive proposal is what's in the best interest of children.
Comprehensive reform is also in the best interest of the U.S. economy. The independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported recently that the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill would add $1 trillion to the economy and strengthen key sectors for economic growth such as tourism, hospitality, agriculture and housing industries.
They also predict comprehensive reform would result in higher wages through bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows and into the legal economy. This helps to put an end to illegal practices that undercut wages and undermine working conditions for all American workers.
Furthermore, the deficit would be reduced by nearly $850 billion over the next 20 years.
The children of undocumented immigrants are a part of America's future. We have to ask ourselves what type of home do we want them growing up in? Do we want them in a stable and loving environment with both parents and their siblings or do we want them separated from the family that loves them the most because our solution to immigration reform didn't take into account that the needs of children are best met by their parents?
For the sake of children who were brought here through no fault of their own, let's hope that Republicans pick up on the contradiction between supporting the children of undocumented immigrants while simultaneously promoting policies that would tear families apart.
Congresswoman Karen Bass represents California's 37th Congressional District and is a Member of the House Judiciary Committee