EDITORIAL: Immigration reform: Not just a national issue

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Late on the morning of July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the United States of America officially became a nation of immigrants.

Since that period, people in search of a better life have tried to enter the most freedom-loving and prosperous country on Earth. Some fled nations with tyrannical regimes such as Nazi Germany, China and Cuba. Other immigrants were simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Many have struggled and even risked their lives to set foot upon American soil.

And so it goes today. Because of that tradition, immigration reform is another of those issues that not only won’t go away, but triggers an emotional reaction almost every time the subject is raised.

The bipartisan effort in Washington to “once and for all” pass new immigration laws is meeting stiff resistance. One reason for the resistance is that many Americans are convinced that more immigration means fewer jobs for native-born Americans — although studies have shown that this is not necessarily true. It appears that there may be a negative impact on those with a high school education or less, and even that impact is small. To the contrary, these studies have shown that immigration reform would boost the economy. This would be especially true if more highly-skilled workers, particularly so-called STEM (technology, engineering and math) workers are attracted to this country.

The so-called “immigration reform” being discussed by Washington politicians seems to be specifically targeting the estimated 12 to 20 million who came to our country illegally. Rounding up and deporting individuals without proper documentation would be a daunting task, and would not entirely solve the problem.

This is not just a national issue. Immigration can have a far-reaching impact upon our state and local communities. In 2000, the Hispanic population in North Carolina was 4.7 percent. In 2010, the percentage had grown to 8.4 — the sixth-fastest growth rate in the country. The most recent available data show that that trend is continuing. In 2011, the population of Hispanics had climbed to 8.6 percent in our state; in Lee County, it’s considerably higher at 18.6 percent.

Unfortunately, too many native-born Americans assume that all Hispanics came here illegally and are native Mexicans. That simply is not true. Many have come from other Latin American countries. Large numbers of them are employed by manufacturers, farmers and construction firms. Others are long-term residents and have established a number of retail businesses and are productive individuals who have taken assimilation into American society seriously.

Streamlining the torturous naturalization process should be part of any reform. There are many people who came legally into this country to work and assimilate into communities. At some point, a significant number of these legal, permanent residents apply for citizenship. Yet, it often takes years for the U.S. Immigration Service to act upon their applications.

Those men who signed the Declaration of Independence could not have known what uproar would develop over immigration almost 237 years later. We hope that current lawmakers will have the wisdom and courage that they had to prudently deal with this issue.