Congress is now considering comprehensive immigration reform. This is perhaps the defining civil and human rights issue of our time.
Most Americans realize that the answer will never be to deport 11 million people, who only want only to work hard, feed their families and share in the American dream. The legislation isn't perfect, but it is a start to resolving this intractable problem.
Consider the following: The legislation proposes a lengthy path to a green card and eventual citizenship for those 11 million undocumented people in the U.S., two-thirds of whom have been in the U.S. more than 10 years.
It provides for a provisional status to allow individuals to work, pay taxes, drive legally and learn English. Those individuals will not collect government benefits, will go to the back of the line and will require clean criminal records. And they will not be able to achieve citizenship for at least 13 years.
Border security will be strengthened by spending more than $6 billion -- to be paid for by fines and penalties in the bill totaling more than $2,000 per person. In fact, if these 11 million individuals move to citizenship, the federal treasury will be enhanced by more than $22 billion. Some of this money should be used to accelerate the processing of those already "in line." Most importantly, these fines, once paid, debunk the cry of amnesty, since such a payment would clear their offense. Finally, the legislation will place young people brought here on a shorter path to citizenship.
This legislation is backed by civil and human rights organizations and faith leaders nationwide representing Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Unitarian, Jewish, Baptist, and many other religious denominations. Law enforcement and business leaders, including our the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, back these reform efforts, hence the expression of support called "Bibles, Badges and Business." It allows would-be Americans to come out of the shadows, will actually improve the economy, and toughen border enforcement. Comprehensive reform is a reasonable, common-sense, humane approach, which proves that America is as good as our ideals.
The Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and the South Carolina Immigration Coalition support the efforts of the Gang of Eight, and especially Sen. Lindsey Graham, and urge the senators to be firm in moving this legislation quickly through the Senate and on to the House. The time is now. This is the year for comprehensive reform.
George Kanuck and Eric Esquivel are co-chairmen of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton.