Create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants

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I am an immigrant. I left everything behind — my family, friends, my home, everything that made me who I am today and everything that I held close to my heart.

I traveled more than 7,000 miles over land and sea to be a part of the American system that values meritocracy and hard work. Who does not dream of being able to live with dignity, of seeing one’s work actually come to fruition, or of having as much opportunity as anyone else to realize the American Dream?

Immigrants and refugees from all over the world see the United States as the land of opportunity, of freedom and liberty and of shelter from violence and civil war. America has proven, through the years, that it is a country where many cultures can coexist peacefully and build a democratic society. Therefore, it is in the country’s inherent spirit to be at the forefront of the world and say, “Yes, we can!” to comprehensive immigration reform.

President Barack Obama was clear in stating that one of his top priorities would be comprehensive immigration reform. Nonetheless, the 11 seconds out of the 72 minutes of his State of the Union address made supporters of immigration fill with doubt. Given how controversial immigration reform is, it’s only fair to ask why it’s so important to tackle it this year.

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Even in today’s tough economy, rather than stealing jobs, most immigrants actually fill jobs in sectors that are extremely difficult to fill. The American workforce is aging. As the Baby Boomer generation approaches its retirement, American businesses face a dire need for young workers. The strain is especially obvious in manual labor jobs that require long working hours, are physically demanding and represent an unappealing option for the increasing number of U.S. citizen youth earning high school and college degrees.

During the next 20 years, the ratio of senior citizens relative to the number of working-age Americans will increase by 67 percent, which will greatly depress economic growth as a whole, especially without a stable labor force.

Even aside of labor concerns, immigration reform is important to the economy.

Immigrants pay more than $300 billion in federal, state and local taxes, and between $20,000 and $80,000 more in taxes than he or she consumes in public benefits. Undocumented immigrants contribute to the Social Security system even though they will never get back the money they put in. Even more, the 12 million immigrants who lack legal status are susceptible to economic exploitation, which depresses wages and drags down working conditions for everyone.

Furthermore, the Center for American Progress predicts the economy would grow by $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product if comprehensive immigration reform passes.

That growth would come from more tax revenue for government, more income and spending and more investments in training and education, factors that depend on immigration reform before they can play into the country’s economy.

The family is the building block of society and this is especially true of the American society, which distinguished itself through its keen sense of community and the sacred value it assigns to family ties. Nonetheless, the broken immigration system conflicts with the so-called family values espoused by opponents to reform.

The current system divides families and keeps loved ones apart for many years. Each day that immigration reform languishes in Congress, millions of American families — including 5 million U.S. citizens who live with undocumented immigrants — fear their family members could be deported at any time.

In this economy, it is a waste to spend billions of dollars to track people down, break up families, close businesses and deport people who learn English, work and try to root themselves in the United States. Instead, were immigrants to be granted legal status, they would be able to come out of the shadows, and contribute their full potential to society.

We need to get real. You can’t deport 12 million people. It’s morally wrong; it’s impossible to do.

A path to citizenship for the undocumented, effective border enforcement, equal rights for workers and an overall modernization of the legal immigration system would not only improve the country’s economic situation and the way it is viewed internationally, but it would also strengthen our laws.

All in all, a long and overdue comprehensive immigration reform is waiting in Congress for America to recommit to its own democratic spirit and give every human being the right to dream the American Dream.

I know that’s what I’m waiting for.

Gina Cristina Sima is an international student from Romania who has been in Maine since 2008.

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