Executive Council Statement

Immigration and the American Dream

Bal Harbour, FL

The shining American dream still draws immigrants to the United States, but many citizens are wondering whether that dream is still alive for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, their legitimate concerns about the future are being exploited by politicians and hate-mongers who are determined to make immigrants the scapegoats for a wide variety of economic and social problems.

The facts are these: immigrants are not the cause of America's declining wages and the export of good jobs overseas. Immigrants are not responsible for the "downsizing" that is sweeping through many U.S. industries and throwing millions of Americans out of work. And immigrants cannot be blamed for the fraying of the country's social fabric that so many Americans perceive with uneasiness and alarm.

Throughout its history, the United States has been enriched by the contributions of new citizens. Our country should continue to welcome legal immigrants and provide a haven to refugees fleeing terror and oppression in their native lands.

At the same time, U.S. citizens have the right to set reasonable, orderly methods by which immigrants are received and refugees given sanctuary. American workers, in particular, have the right to expect that their government's laws governing entry and legal residence be respected by others -- an expectation that the overwhelming majority of immigrants honor and accept. But such laws and policies should be developed and enforced in the context of accurate information and democratic principles, not in a climate of phony statistics, bitter myths and political hypocrisy that has fueled anti-immigration initiatives such as California's Proposition 187 and the national effort to deny government benefits to legal immigrants.

Government and academic studies have shown repeatedly that immigrants, with and without documents, enter the United States because they want to work -- not to collect welfare benefits and rip-off the U.S. health care system. To deny public assistance to law-abiding, legal immigrants who may find themselves in temporary difficulty is undemocratic, unfair and contemptible. To deny illegal immigrants what few services they may obtain -- like emergency medical care -- or to throw schoolchildren onto the streets and deny them immunization against communicable diseases, is heartless and dangerous.

We recognize that illegal immigration is a genuine problem, particularly for the states along our borders and shorelines. Rather than commit to foolish policies at the behest of political opportunists and anti-immigrant firebrands, we urge the federal government to address the problem with fairness and compassion and in the spirit of our nation's heritage as a land of peace, freedom and opportunity for all.

The federal government has a responsibility to help affected states by deterring unauthorized entries and helping state and local governments cope with the impact and costs of growing immigrant populations. Vigorous wage-hour and safety law enforcement in all workplaces will take away from rogue employers the unfair advantages they gain from hiring and intimidating undocumented workers. Such enforcement must be accompanied by protections to stop employers from discriminating against citizens and documented workers in their hiring practices or from harassing workers because of their skin color, names or accents.

These policies would go a long way toward addressing the difficult issues stemming from legal and illegal immigration. The program of quick fixes and harsh rhetoric offered by the anti- immigration demagogues is not only harmful to the debate, but would take the country in the wrong direction. We strongly oppose their efforts and pledge to work for immigration policies that reflect the American tradition of justice, dignity and equality.