Why Does the U.S. Need Immigration Reform?

People come to the United States for the promise of freedom and opportunity. But the current immigration system in the United States is broken: Families are separated, immigrant workers are exploited, people die trying to cross the border, and there is rampant discrimination against immigrants.

How we treat newcomers should reflect the values of fairness and equality that define the United States as a country. We need a commonsense immigration process, one that includes a roadmap for people who aspire to be citizens.

Why is it hard for immigrants to “get in line” for a green card?

For the vast majority of undocumented immigrants there is no “line” available. As the Immigration Policy Center points out, most undocumented immigrants lack the necessary family relationships to apply for legal entry, and those who do face years or decades waiting for a visa.

For America’s enormous economy, current limitations on the number of total green cards available are unreasonable. Even if a prospective immigrant meets green card requirements, the wait can be everlasting, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

Why should we create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?

There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. People move to make life better for themselves and their families. We need an immigration system that recognizes the hardships and contributions of people moving here, keeps families together here in this country, and creates a rational process of citizenship for new Americans. That will do more for the United States than expensive and impractical approaches like trying to deport millions of people or trying to wall off a 2,000-mile border.

Why are automatic penalties that trigger deportation unfair?

Under current law, noncitizens convicted of what’s known as an “aggravated felony” face automatic penalties that can trigger deportation. Yet the current definition of an “aggravated felony” is so expansive that it includes crimes as simple as a bar fight, theft, and failing to appear in court.

Judges have little discretion in whether or not to deport immigrants who have committed crimes in this category. People should not be deported without a judge being able to evaluate the circumstances of their case. Due process is central to the credibility of the American justice system. We should reject any policies that deny due process, for immigrants or anyone else.

Why is putting people in immigration detention harmful?

Liberty should be the norm for everyone, and detention the last resort. In the overwhelming majority of immigration cases, detention is not necessary to effect deportations and does not make us any safer. Among those unnecessarily locked up are survivors of torture, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, families with small children, the elderly, individuals with serious medical and mental health conditions, and lawful permanent residents with longstanding family and community ties who are facing deportation because of old or minor crimes.

This lock-up system is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, costing $2 billion a year. Detainees are also exposed to myriad abuses—from a lack of adequate medical and mental health care that has caused unnecessary deaths to rape and sexual assault.

Why shouldn’t states and cities be able enforce their own immigration laws?

Legislation inspired by Arizona’s “show me your papers” law invites rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans, and others presumed to be immigrants based on how they look or sound. Racial profiling is an ineffective and harmful practice that undermines our basic values. We need to ensure that law enforcement officials are held to the constitutional standards we value as Americans—protecting public safety and the rights of all.

What are the Open Society Foundations doing to address immigrant rights?

The Open Society Foundations support efforts to secure federal immigration reform and promote fair immigration enforcement, detention, and deportation policies. We have invested more than $100 million in immigrant rights in the United States since 1997.