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Guest Voz: NJ Mayor says it makes sense to grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants

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.

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  • Diane Dugan
    November 13, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    What happens when we are as poor as the Country they left?

  • Dave Bennion
    November 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks for posting, here. I agree with most of what you say.
    Except for this:
    America will never support the destruction of the nuclear family.
    DHS does exactly that every day, but not en masse. DHS splits up families without consideration of the harm to citizen family members left behind. Whatever Obama or Napolitano say about immigration, they do so as if this fact does not exist, as if they are not ripping apart nuclear families by the thousands.
    I very much like this:
    We must accept the only rational course and admit that our past border policies have failed.
    They have failed, but fixing them is not on the agenda. There is bipartisan support for a path to citizenship for most undocumented here now, but there has been little thought given to what comes after. The global inequality that draws people to the U.S. and the restrictive hodgepodge of laws that keeps poor migrants out and pushes many legal entrants out of status are not likely to be changed much, at least not on the current track.
    The restrictionists’ complaint that, if we continue as we have been, we will simply need another amnesty in 20 years is right. But spending more money to do the country economic harm by keeping out immigrants doesn’t make sense. We need a different model.

  • maryelizabeth
    November 23, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I wonder what will happen to this blue ribbon panel when Jon Corizine is gone. I hope that Chris Christie does something positive for Immigrants in N.J. He is making friends with Democrats already so we will have to see what happens. There was a bi-partisan breakfast that took place already to bring together all elected officials. Mayor Cory Booker of Newark was there.

  • maryelizabeth
    November 27, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I agree with Dave say’s there. If we pass Immigration Reform without reasonable future quotas we will have the same problem 20 years from now. We need to come up with a solution that takes away the magnet that draws people in the wrong way.

  • cookie
    November 30, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Lawbreakers usually do get ripped apart from their families by incarceration, etc. Are you saying that those in our country illegally should be treated differently than citizen lawbreakers?
    It isn’t our fault that other countries can’t seem to stand on their own two feet and create an economy for their own citizens. So we should be the savior and sponge for the whole world’s poor because of that?
    No, it would not do us economic harm to deport those in our country illegally. Our unemployment rate is very high right now and citizens could use those jobs they would vacate.
    What the “H” is a restrictionist anyway?

  • cookie
    December 2, 2009 at 7:36 am

    And just what constitutes new and reasonable quotas for foreign workers? Why would our current quotas be considered unreasonable? I imagine that research was done by our government to determine just what “reasonable” quotas are and that was how the numbers were determined.
    Quotas need to fit the needs of our country, not the immigrant. Population growth is another factor involved.

  • Marisa Treviño
    December 4, 2009 at 10:19 am

    No, Cookie. In this case, this seems to be the one area where both sides agree that the quotas are either outdated or just don’t keep up with the demand from both labor and requests.

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