By Michael Wildes
Michael Wildes serves as mayor of Englewood, New Jersey. In addition, he is an immigration lawyer and a former federal prosecutor.
As partner of the NYC-based immigration law firm Wildes & Weinberg, established by his father, Wildes has become internationally renowned for having represented the United States government in immigration proceedings.
Wildes is in his second term as mayor, winning re-election in 2006 and was appointed by former Governor Jon Corzine to sit as a member of the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration.
With his years of experience interacting and representing immigrants, Wildes makes an argument for his most difficult case yet — convincing the American public that undocumented immigrants deserve to be granted U.S. citizenship.
Across the nation there is a call for comprehensive immigration reform, and during this period of turmoil in immigration policy, it is important to keep some basic precepts in mind.
There is an estimated 20 million undocumented aliens currently living in the United States, but we don’t know WHO they are and we don’t know WHERE they came from.
The enormity of the problem has caused paralysis and political impotence for years, but the tragic events of September 11, 2001 were the catalyst for a grassroots effort to force Congress to confront the immigration issue comprehensively and publicly.
And though our national psyche has not yet fully recovered from the personal losses suffered by many and the public outrage felt by all, the conversation about border control and immigration policy must take place now — while detached reflection remains practically impossible.
This discussion must take place within the parameters of certain realities.
First, America will never support the destruction of the nuclear family. The separation of child from parent or husband from wife is antithetical to the very core of our national identity, and therefore any suggestion of removal en masse of these millions of illegal immigrants is simply untenable.
Second, it is unrealistic to believe that our government has the resources to find, detain, grant due process, and remove 20 million aliens from inside our borders. As such, the argument favoring mass deportation is unsustainable even as applied to those without immediate family ties to American citizens.
Third, disregarding the biased statistics advanced by those on both sides of the issue, simple math tells us that these individuals provide approximately 4 – 5% of our national labor force and should, therefore, be paying their share in taxes.
The economic reality is that legalizing the presence of undocumented aliens provides a sorely needed resource to our shrinking Social Security fund, and removes the financial burden currently placed upon the taxpayer to provide medical and educational services to illegal aliens and their children.
We must accept the only rational course and admit that our past border policies have failed. A national admission of failure in this regard is, at this stage, acceptable if the lessons learned from it provide us with the improved policies and strategies needed for a safer future.
With millions of illegal aliens living clandestine lives in our nation, any effort to document them is doomed to failure if it doesn’t contain a reasonable opportunity for them to achieve citizenship at some point. Drawing the many, hard-working worthy out of the darkness is the only way to shine a light on the unwanted, dangerous few.
Finally, I extend a plea to the members of Congress to deliberate and debate this issue with the requisite compassion and informed resolve that it requires. The complexity of the issue is matched only by its importance to our national identity.
Can anyone doubt that our nation possesses citizens with the combined intellect, compassion, and creativity necessary to meet the challenge of forging a balanced and lasting solution to the immigration question?
Unfortunately, the conversation is taking place during a period of polarized, politicized, and partisan animosity almost unprecedented in our nation’s history. While issues of great social significance can be argued in the streets, they are not required to be street fights.
It should be clear to all that while this conversation can’t be separated from the emotion of its time, it must be considered in the light of our entire history.
We are a nation of immigrants. More than any nation in modern history we have embraced diversity and been strengthened by the contributions of the foreign-born members of our society. Every American reading this is blessed to be so called because of the opportunity of entry given to a member of their family.
To deny this opportunity to others because of fear, economics, or bigotry is to deny our capacity to resolve this issue with the compassion and innovation that is worthy of our great nation.