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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pathway to Citizenship Should Include Community Service

George Wenschhof

Insistence on fines, payment of back taxes and a long waiting period by undocumented workers as part of a pathway to citizenship is a non starter and is why the last effort at immigration reform failed.

Instead, what is needed is a win-win scenario that would require an undocumented worker to provide a minimum of 2,000 hours in community service in the government/nonprofit sector over a four year period.

Upon registering and passing a background check, the undocumented worker would receive a temporary status allowing them to remain and work in the U.S. over a four year period, provided they perform a minimum of 10 hours of community service per week.

Local, state and federal government, along with nonprofits have been severely impacted by the economic downturn and a massive influx of an estimated 11 million workers contributing work a minimum of ten hours per week over the next four years at no cost would be a major plus and help to grow the U.S. out of the lingering sluggish economy.

The federal minimum wage, as of 2009, was $7.25 per hour.  So, doing the math, the value of 2,000 hours of community service would be a minimum of $14,500.  A much higher figure than is currently being discussed for a proposed fine.

The added plus would be the gain of taxes received from 11 million workers now paying taxes. This would significantly help to reduce the national debt.

It is encouraging to see the momentum build as President Obama and a bipartisan group of eight U.S. Senators came forward this week with proposals for comprehensive immigration reform.

Even, Republican leaders of Congress are grudgingly voicing support, due to the realization they received little support from Hispanic/Latino voters in the 2012 election, won easily by President Obama.

However, it is the forthcoming details that could still derail passage of a bill by Congress or result in a “more blow” than “go” bill.

The areas which need to be addressed in regard to illegal immigration are not difficult to identify.  An update of the current immigration procedures, securing borders, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers and providing a reasonable pathway to citizenship is what is needed.

In 2007, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Az.) worked together to propose the “Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007”.

It failed, in large part, due to the convoluted manner for an undocumented worker to obtain citizenship.

The bill called for an undocumented worker to pay a fine, return to their country and then pay thousands to be able to return to the United States, an onerous requirement which would have produced few “takers”.

Requiring a fine and/or payment of back taxes will never result in illegal immigrants coming forward and is an unreasonable demand.  They are here in the first place due to underemployment in their native countries and currently exist on low wages from undesirable jobs in America.

In addition to requiring a 2,000 hour community service component, learning the English language could be included, if necessary to win support of conservative members of Congress.  Of course, a background check would be conducted and any illegal immigrant with a criminal record would not be eligible for the program and be deported to their native country.

Securing the borders, updating immigration law, and severely cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers are the easier areas to reach agreement on, in a divided congress.

A community service component to earn a pathway to citizenship makes sense in so many ways and requiring an undocumented worker to apply within six months of the bill being passed to be eligible for the program would help ensure compliance in a timely fashion.

Let’s hope Congress seizes this opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will be successful. 

Now, is the time.
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