Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU panel calls for national immigration reform

Immigration reform will not be easy. It will not come without struggle. And as an issue, it will not be ignored, a University of Denver panel finds.

DU’s Strategic Issues Program (SIP), a nonpartisan panel of leaders in business, government and education, worked throughout 2009 studying one of the country’s most prickly issues. The result of their work is a 50-page report titled Architecture for Immigration Reform: Fitting the Pieces of Public Policy. In it, the panel makes 25 recommendations for immigration reform.

The panel’s chairman, Jim Griesemer, told assembled reporters, activists and academics at a news conference Dec. 9 that the panel recognized the challenge of dealing with a triple-threat of problems: illegal immigration, a lack of United States policy focus and an entrenched ineffective immigration system. But, he noted, the issue also presents opportunities to build economic strength and create a competitive global advantage for the country while strengthening social vitality and cohesion.

“Global migration and the great shift that we’re seeing through global capitalism represents an opportunity for the United States,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to be captured, not a reality to be avoided.”

The panel’s recommendations fall into five areas: national security, social vitality, economic enhancement, family unification and refugee concerns. The common thread is a shift in national priorities to focus first on policies that benefit the United States.

A full list of the recommendations and the entire report is online at Griesemer will hold an online chat at the site to hear feedback Dec. 10 at noon MST.

Among the recommendations: The creation of a secure, government-issued worker identification card required for employment, coupled with an electronic system for employers to verify legal status. The report also calls for greater flexibility in issuing work visas combined with a simplification of the visa process, cutting the convoluted system from nearly 200 visa classifications down to eight categories.

In addition, the panel calls for strong border enforcement and adequate resources for customs and border patrol agencies.

And without excusing violations that have led to some 12 million people living in the U.S. illegally, the panel finds that deporting that many individuals is simply not realistic. Meanwhile, leaving that many people living in a shadow state is also impractical and unproductive. The panel calls for creating a process that allows illegal immigrants to come forward and register for a provisional status, working toward full legal residency.

But that residency would require English language proficiency, Griesemer said. While the U.S. is built as a nation on immigration and the vitality of many cultures, a common language must be part of the country’s continued development and prosperity.

As they studied the issue, panelists heard from more than 30 experts in law enforcement, labor union leadership, governance, academics and business. Speakers included immigration experts; Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and former Govs. Dick Lamm and Bill Owens; a state attorney general; a U.S. attorney; and leaders in venture capital, education and health care.

The resulting report is aimed at stimulating discussion and providing an architecture for policy development. It will be mailed to some 6,000 leaders in government, business, advocacy and academia.

Above all, Griesemer said panelists found that with an issue as complex as immigration, with so many parts tied to each other, a comprehensive approach free of politics is required.

“It’s a fair guess the extremes on both sides of this issue are going to be unhappy with this report,” Griesemer said. “It’s intended to look at the problem in a practical way … it’s intended to deal with the problems. There is no silver bullet that is going to deal with this problem because it’s so complicated. If you fix one part and not the other, you’re just going to switch the problems around.”

Chancellor Robert Coombe, introducing the report, said that while SIP panelists have always dealt with daunting topics, this year’s issue was a particularly major challenge.

“This year, the topic was the greatest test yet of the process,” Coombe said.

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