Look at real immigration issues

More than 10,000 people walked from Brooklyn to Manhattan in New York City on Saturday chanting and carrying banners reading “We are all American” — in English and Spanish.

This protest, as well as many others across the country, was in response to an immigration bill that would result in the criminalization of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Last December the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437, the bill that if passed by the Senate and signed by the president would make all illegal aliens, as well as any citizens who assist them, felons and green-light the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The thousands of protesters on the streets of cities across the country are quite right to march; this bill will do little to address the serious issue of illegal immigration into the United States.

For one thing, a felony is a big deal.

If all 11 million – likely a low-end number – illegal immigrants were charged with a felony and jailed, where would we keep them? Just as important, most of these 11 million individuals are currently working — overwhelmingly in the low-skill, low-paying, high-risk jobs that even high-school dropouts are loathe to take.

There is little doubt that suddenly taking undocumented laborers out of the workforce would be devastating for the economy.

On the other hand, if we were to allow these immigrants to work legally, both citizens and immigrants could see gains. As undocumented workers, immigrants are often poorly paid, work in sub-par conditions and depend on social services for their health care.

If legally recognized, two things would happen: Employers could no longer treat them as second-class citizens and workers would have to pay taxes to support their reliance on social services and public schools — good things for immigrant and citizen alike.

A bill currently being debated in the Senate outlines a guest worker program that could recognize workers in this way — and eventually allow them to become citizens – while simultaneously strengthening border security. This makes infinitely more sense than the misguided, xenophobic and unrealistic House bill.

We expect deal-making and haggling over the bill this week, but we sincerely hope the bill that emerges recognizes the reality of immigrants in America and allows them to become citizens – not criminals.