By Hillary Clinton, Democratic Presidential Candidate
America’s immigration system is broken – but not beyond repair. I believe our immigration enforcement efforts can and should be humane and effective. Large-scale raids sow fear and division in communities around the country, and they are contrary to who we are as Americans.
People who fled violence and threats of death in their homelands should not be afraid to go to work, or to send their children to school, or to go to the grocery store in America. People fleeing persecution should always have the right to a full and fair hearing in this country.
We need a comprehensive approach to addressing the large numbers of Central American migrants who have come to the United States in recent years, especially the many unaccompanied children and teenagers, and to fix our immigration system.
First, we have to reform our asylum and refugee processes to ensure that everyone fleeing persecution has a fair and full opportunity to tell their story. In particular, every unaccompanied child who appears in immigration court should be granted access to government-funded counsel.
Seventy-three percent of unaccompanied children who have lawyers at their hearings are granted permission to stay in America, while just 15 percent of those who appear alone do. No child or teenager should have to face a judge and defend himself or herself without an attorney.
Just last week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid introduced legislation to get this done, and I urge Congress to pass it swiftly. Surely we can all agree that children and teenagers, many of whom have already survived unspeakable violence and abuse in their home countries or on the way to the United States, deserve a fair hearing.
Second, we must also turn our attention to the serious problems on the ground in Central America. We need to work with regional partners to improve economic and security conditions in these countries, so no one is forced to put themselves and their children at risk by undertaking a dangerous journey north.
President Obama has requested $1 billion for assistance to Central American nations to help them crack down on criminal organizations, promote economic development, and strengthen the rule of law. Congress took a step in the right direction by partly funding this request, but that’s not good enough.
We need to fully fund the President’s request and do it now. We should also strengthen in-country processing, so that people can file for parole and refugee status from their home countries, rather than attempting a dangerous journey with smugglers.
Third, we need to continue the fight here at home for comprehensive immigration reform. I will lead this effort from the very first day of my Presidency. We will work to keep families together and stand up to those who demonize and disparage our immigrant communities. We must put an end to the political assumption in Washington that we can’t get comprehensive immigration reform done—that it’s just too hard. We can get it done, and we must.
As part of this process, we have to reduce backlogs in our immigration courts, add more translators and immigration judges to hear cases fairly and quickly, modernize our visa process, and reduce barriers for immigrants to adjust their legal status.
And while we fight for comprehensive reform, we also have to defend and build on President Obama’s executive actions protecting DREAMers and others, so that they can live without fear of deportation.
This is a challenge that evokes great passions on all sides. But the answer is not to build more walls or separate more families. We need to make smart investments that keep families together and protect the human rights and dignity of immigrant communities. Our immigration system is broken—but not beyond repair. It’s within our power to fix it.
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