Immigration Leaders Gather to Discuss Need for Reform

By Ivone Guillen 10-09-2012
Photo: Katrina Brown /
Photo: Katrina Brown /

Last week, I attended the 9th Annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference at Georgetown University Law Center, where a number of senior government officials, policy experts, academics, and advocates discussed one of the most paralyzing issues of our time —immigration.  

As each panelist attempted to provide their thoughtful legal and policy analysis on a number of issues like immigration enforcement, the federal government’s responsibility on immigration policy, and litigation developments, the differences in opinion between the speakers quickly emerged, even though there was consensus that immigration reform is significantly needed in our country. 

Many agreed that the issue of immigration is of staggering complexity. The solution that is developed by the federal government must be a conglomeration of multifaceted mechanisms that address the brokenness of our current system at the policy, legal, and administrative level. This comprehensive solution must also be a clear reflection of the historical context we currently live in since it’s not in our best interest to use an outdated system from the past as an exemplary model for the future. 

It’s like Lucas Guttentag, Robina Distinguished Senior Fellow, Research Scholar in Residence and Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School stated:

“When we talk about comprehensive immigration reform, I think its absolutely critical that we revisit that part of the 1996 law (aggravated felonies as well as many other provisions that were enacted in 1996 that take away a lot of discretion), that we just not blindly adopt the existing definitions and then erect further new reforms regarding whether workers or others, but rather go back and undo the damage that was done in 1996 that had this incredibly harsh and retroactive consequences.  The second thing is that… there is also a fundamental problem with the law that needs to be revisited when we get to the question of federal reform.” 

Only by analyzing our historical mistakes and considering our changing times can we begin to create sensible solutions and allow ourselves to move beyond the negative rhetoric that oftentimes plagues the issue in the public and the media. And while the issue is consistently portrayed as a black and white (e.g., “they should have come here the legal way, my family did it the legal way”), the truth is that it’s not that feasible anymore. 

In our current environment, there are numerous players that are affected by the unpractical   policies and legal underpinnings currently set in place by our laws. The sooner we begin to acknowledge that it’s an issue that affects us all in our communities, workplaces, and our economies, the more quickly we can move towards coming up with a “fair, just and pragmatic solution” as Mark L. Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General continuously stated is needed in our country.    

The mere fact that over the last two years, states have wanted to take on this challenge by enacting harsh state level legislation shows that it’s an issue of interest among the public, but it will take a unified effort for any kind of change to be made. It will particularly take, as Thomas E. Perez Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice — stated: “leadership from the diverse business sectors of our economy coming together to address the problem and admit that opportunity gaps exist within our current immigration structure.”  

Ivone Guillen is Sojourners' Immigration Campaigns Fellow. A native of Washington State, where she lived and worked amongst immigrant communities, Ivone graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., in 2009 with a degree in international studies and Spanish, and worked with Tierra Vida (Land of Life) as program coordinator for C.A.S.A. and was a immigration policy fellow at Bread For The World before joining Sojourners in September 2011.

Photo: Katrina Brown /

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