Remember immigration reform?
Back in June, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill that included a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants without papers in the United States. While some House Republicans had made their opposition to the bill quite clear — claiming that the bill would provide “amnesty for lawbreakers” — some 26 Republicans have been identified who would support immigration reform.
On Wednesday, President Obama said that he hasn’t given up on comprehensive immigration reform despite the government shutdown and the debate about raising the debt ceiling, both of which have contributed to a sense of pessimism about the immigration reform bill passing.
As advocates for immigration reform recently noted in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, it’s crucial to keep up the pressure on Congress. The reasons we need to pass S.744 are all the more glaring when you consider what’s happening to immigrants in other parts of the world.
1. The Mediterranean is becoming a “sea of death”
In recent weeks, many migrants have died while crossing, or trying to cross the Mediterranean. About 400 migrants drowned this month, more than 360 in one shipwreck alone, off the island of Lampedusa. Last Friday, at least 33 died when their boat sank between Malta and Lampedusa. Just on Tuesday, 370 migrants were rescued from three boats between Sicily and Lampedusa.
2. Many migrants are fleeing civil strife in their homelands
Of the 30,100 migrants who reached Italy after sailing from North Africa between January 1 and September 30 of this year, the majority were from war-town countries. 7,500 were from Syria and 3,000 from Somalia. Another 7,500 were from Eritrea, where thousands have either been imprisoned for their political views or are forcibly conscripted into the army. Many of these migrants have legitimate asylum claims.
3. Even though migrants help the economy, they’re told to go back home
In September, U.K. prime minister David Cameron proposed a plan that would reduce European Union “benefit tourism” and also limit the number of citizens from new E.U. countries (Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania) who come to the U.K. in search of work.
Statistics reveal that migrants from the E.U. are actually more likely to be working than U.K. citizens. Cameron’s proposal is but one sign of anti-immigration sentiment in the E.U. The Golden Dawn, the far-right party that has won seats in Greece’s Parliament, has blamed the country’s economic woes on immigrants and has been connected with many violent anti-immigrant attacks. France’s far-right party, the Front National, which has long been associated with antisemitism and racism, has also been gaining support, as seen in recent electoral victories.
4. Even amid rising migrant deaths, the E.U. remains uncertain on immigration policy
Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, is calling on E.U. nations to rethink asylum policy by making a radical change, opening more legal immigration channels. As he recently noted, “Europe has to recognize at last that it’s a continent of immigration” and therefore in need of “modern laws which regulate legal immigration.”
Currently, the only way to immigrate legally to the E.U. is to obtain a Blue Card, which was modeled after the U.S. Green Card system. But each E.U. member decides on its application procedure and the requirements to obtain the card are tough: you need valid travel documents and job qualification papers, both of which refugees fleeing from countries riven by civil war are not exactly going to have.
Under E.U. law, asylum applications must be processed in the country that a person has first arrived in. Most people enter the E.U. southern Mediterranean countries like Italy or Greece. Addressing the needs of migrants falls disproportionately on the very countries that have recently been overwhelmed with their own economic problems.
As Sonia Nazario writes in the New York Times, many migrants don’t want to leave their homes. They simply have no choice but to brave a journey, however treacherous, to a strange place. Schulz says that richer nations have a “humanitarian obligation” to assist asylum seekers and migrants: all the more reason why U.S. lawmakers need to settle their own differences and discuss comprehensive immigration reform.