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Opinion

Op-Ed: Republican and Democratic mayors agree: Chaos at the border demands immigration reform now

Immigration along the Texas Mexico border., Brownsville, USA - 20 Jun 2018
The border fence along the Rio Grande River near Brownsville, Texas on June 26.
(Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE)

Last week, we went to the border near El Paso with a bipartisan group of mayors to speak up for children taken from their parents.

We are mayors and fathers, but you don’t need to be either to know that separating children from their parents is inhumane, immoral and wrong. Washington assures us that the separations have stopped; now we must ensure that every one of the more than 2,000 kids in shelters and foster care are reunited with their loved ones as soon as possible.

The creation of a Department of Health and Human Services reunification task force is a good beginning, but it is unacceptable that the administration now says asylum seekers will not be reunited with their children unless they drop their claims or their cases are heard, which could be months or even years away. Nor can we simply replace family separation with family detention and believe we’ve found a long-term solution.

The president’s attempt to dehumanize migrants by saying they “infest our country” instead has humanized them. Just as important, the chaos at the border has taken a hammer to an already fragile immigration system and smashed it to pieces. Out of this crisis, there is a growing consensus that we need viable, lasting immigration reform now.

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We believe the events of the last few weeks can be a catalyst for the reform we need now.

The House of Representatives, which has refused to consider bipartisan immigration legislation, failed to pass a Republican “compromise” on Wednesday. Meanwhile, we along with other Democrat and Republican mayors in the U.S. Conference of Mayors have a platform — and practical ideas — to help Washington fix this broken system.

We are united in calling for national reform that strengthens border security, but also allows state and local law enforcement to remain focused on community policing.

We need to establish a streamlined visa process to efficiently handle seasonal, agricultural, low- and high-skilled workers.

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We need a uniform system of employment verification.

We have to establish a framework that enables people of goodwill to emerge from the shadows and fully partake in the American dream as citizens.

And we must make sure to protect the most vulnerable migrants, those fleeing violence in their home countries seeking asylum here.

There’s still more to be done. The missed deadlines and broken promises that have plagued action on the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — DACA — are unacceptable.

We must provide clarity for the 800,000 young people, including thousands in our cities, who registered with a promise of security in the only home they’ve known. But these “Dreamers” — just like children at the border and families seeking the American dream — cannot be used as bargaining chips to coerce action on other parts of immigration policy.

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And no one should be confused about our position on crime and immigration. There is no place in this country for those who pursue violent crime and prey on others. We must hold them accountable for their actions, through prosecution and deportation.

Immigration reform is never easy. President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill knew this in the 1980s when they nonetheless forged a bipartisan partnership and passed the only significant immigration reform of our time.

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We believe the events of the last few weeks can be a catalyst for the reform we need now. We have seen that a sustained chorus of voices representing most Americans can make change happen. Those voices must be heard again.

We have the chance to do what’s right for our country — and for the thousands of people eager to live their dreams, contribute to our economy and society and be a part of an ethic of compassion and tolerance that defines and unites us as Americans.

Eric Garcetti, Democrat mayor of Los Angeles, is chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Latino Alliance. Tom Tait, Republican mayor of Anaheim, is co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Immigration Reform Task Force.

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