In the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney exposed his extreme position on immigration and confirmed to those of us who care about this issue that he cannot bring a solution to our broken immigration system. In fact, we can now describe his immigration policy in two words: “get out.”
As former mayor of this border community, I understand the urgent need for the federal government to take action on immigration reform. Indeed, there is broad consensus that we need to reform our broken immigration system. But instead of promoting the national interest, Mitt Romney is only interested in using the issue as a political wedge. He promised to veto the DREAM Act, supports the inhumane notion of ‘self-deportation’ which seeks to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that are forced to leave, and this week, described undocumented immigrants as “illegals” further showcasing his desire to appeal to the most extreme factions of the Republican party.
In contrast – and in spite of the obstacles constantly placed by Gov. Romney’s allies in Congress –President Obama has made significant progress in implementing immigration policies that reward hard work and demand responsibility. As a former Homeland Security official in his administration, I have seen first hand our president’s commitment to reform. Consider what has already been achieved:
President Obama proposed a new rule to keep families together by allowing undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens to stay in the country while they begin the legal immigration process.
President Obama has directed immigration enforcement efforts on those who endanger our communities, and is de-emphasizing low-priority cases like students, veterans, seniors, and military families.
Using his authority under existing law, the president also took action to lift the shadow of deportation from young people who came to the United States as children through no fault of their own, so they can pursue their education or apply for work authorization.
During my time as chief of staff at CBP, the administration also met its obligation to security, placing more boots on the ground, infrastructure, and technology along the border than ever before.
The president understands the challenges that immigrants face and he knows that at its heart, it is also an economic issue. One of the most important things we can do to strengthen the middle class in America is to reform the immigration system so that there is no longer a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everybody else. Doing so will help incomes for middle-class families rise again and prosperity in America to be widely shared.
Since the beginning of his time in office, President Obama has worked to build a consensus for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The President’s vision for reform will continue to make border security a federal priority, will hold businesses that break the law by exploiting undocumented workers accountable, and make those living in the United States illegally take responsibility for their actions by passing a background check, paying fines, and getting right with the law before they can get on a path to legalization.
(Lopez is a former mayor of Nogales and policy adviser to ex-Gov. Janet Napolitano for Mexico and Latin America. He served as chief of staff for U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2009-11).