Immigration is on the political agenda in Washington, and changes can be expected, says Suzii Paynter, director of citizenship and public policy.for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

“Our system is very broken, and the president has made it a priority” to fix the situation, Paynter said.

Three types of legislation are being considered in Congress–an agriculture jobs bill, new guest worker legislation and “The Dream Act,” which would aid non-citizen students in funding a college education.

Paynter said the “AgJOBS Act” is the most likely of the three to be acted upon. It would provide short-term relief for undocumented agricultural workers, granting them legal status when there is a shortage of legal, documented workers. The act also would provide long-term term relief through a change in visa status.

Several bills have been introduced for new guest worker legislation, which would change the rules by which non-citizens are allowed to work legally in the United States.

The Dream Act would “adjust” the legal status of previously undocumented students who have “consistently attended and graduated” from high school in the United States. This would enable them to attend a state university without paying out-of-country tuition or make them eligible for military service.

Immigration is now on the political agenda, because “frankly, our economy depends on the work of guest workers in our country,” Paynter said. But current law does not provide an adequate framework for legal participation by those workers.

Non-citizen workers must wait an “inordinately” long period for legal documents, and “immigration law changes almost daily because of the policies and procedures,” Paynter said.

There also are inequities. Federal and state governments are spending a large amount of time and money in dealing with illegal immigrants, but they are “not holding employers accountable for illegalities” in regard to hiring those workers.

Also, the terrorist attacks of 2001 changed everything. “All of our remedies were created before we had a security need,” she said.

Today, there is a “common perception that we’re not defending our borders,” Paynter said. That leads to the “assumption that we need to put a wall up and completely defend our borders.”

As a result of the varied issues, “there is a convergence of concern, … need … and the human reality,” she said. “Other countries all over the world live in cooperation with their neighbors,” but in the United States “a set of beliefs has developed based on prejudice.”

That prejudice is against immigrants from Central and South Americans, Paynter said. “If you talk about immigration from any other group, you don’t get the same level of resistance.”

That resistance is, in part, based on fear that millions of people from south of the border will overwhelm the United States with huge numbers of immigrants, she said.

Rather than letting such fears determine the legal remedies, immigration policy should be based on good economics and accurate information, Paynter said. “We have to base our solutions on reality and not on perception or myth.”

Ferrell Foster writes for the Baptist General Convention of Texas communications office.

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