Within Reach: A Roadmap for US Immigration Reform


The urge to migrate—for family or “a better life”—has shaped the history of the United States since its inception. Today, 13 percent of the US population is foreign born. Among these 40 million immigrants, 11 million are unauthorized, living and working in the United States without legal status. Their lack of status makes them highly vulnerable to violations of basic rights protected under US and international law. Fear of deportation often drives many to live as quietly as possible, doing nothing to draw attention to themselves, even if it means not reporting crimes or workplace abuses.

Yet these immigrants do not live in isolation. Many are husbands and wives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents, as well as fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, and sons and daughters. Unauthorized immigrants perform jobs often shunned by citizens yet crucial to the US economy.

The current US immigration system, however, focuses more on harsh enforcement of outdated, ineffective laws than on application of policies that take into account the family and labor considerations that draw immigrants to the United States. Since 1990, the US government has deported over 4 million immigrants, under laws that largely disregard family bonds and the immigrants’ deeply held ties to American communities. In 2011, the immigration detention system—which has increasingly become like the criminal justice system—held over 400,000 people, most of whom were not facing criminal charges; it has held about 3 million people over the past decade.

The injustices and inefficiencies of the immigration system can have devastating consequences not only for the millions of unauthorized immigrants in the United States, but also for the millions of citizens and legal residents who share their lives and depend on them. It hurts their employers, their schools, and their communities. A system that is arbitrary, unfair, and bewildering can destroy individual lives, damage the country’s economy, and erode society’s faith in the rule of law.

The majority of Americans support comprehensive reform that squarely addresses the vulnerabilities of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants. The Obama administration and Congress should seize this opportunity to create a fairer, more effective, and more compassionate immigration system. The long history of immigration in the United States, from its brightest to its darkest moments, provides a wealth of lessons from which the government can draw to create a system that regulates migration effectively while it protects fundamental rights.

Four Principles of Immigration Reform



Respect Families:
The US immigration system should be grounded in the fundamental responsibility of government to protect families >>

Legalization Process:
Immigration reform should include an effective legalization process that respects families, protects victims from abuses and crimes, and acknowledges the contributions of long-term residents >>

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Protect Immigrants:
The US immigration system should be committed to protecting immigrants from workplace violations and crime >>

Due Process:
The US immigration system should focus enforcement efforts on genuine threats and ensure due process rights are protected for all people >>