Why Immigration Reform Is Part of the Civil Rights Struggle

Notably, some proposals aimed at restricting undocumented immigrants from accessing employment and social benefits have brought civil rights to the foreground when it turned out the laws would affect all Americans. The REAL ID Act, for instance, which offers driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, also proposed new federal standards for identification for all citizens. The provision sparked a national debate. Advocates wanted stricter ID programs to fight terrorism and limit immigration, but opponents saw a system that not only could discriminate—depending on ID costs, proof of residence and other criteria—but also intrude on the privacy and civil rights of everyone living in America.

While similar experiences in the face of discrimination have brought blacks and undocumented Latinos together for immigration reform, some immigration specialists point out that the African-American experience is still very different from the Latino experience. "Whereas segregation did not allow blacks to be full citizens, your experience as a Latino immigrant will differ radically from immigrant to immigrant depending on where you come from, depending on your social class and educational background, and depending on your racial background too," said Claudio Iván Remeseira, journalist and editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook.

The ability to find a universal plight in common, however, is what has empowered different immigrant groups to team up with undocumented Latinos in a shared cause. "Even though we are different and diverse, and come from different cultural backgrounds, a lot of our issues are common, whether it is fighting against detention or pushing for language access, or making sure that we have a proper future for all of our DREAMers," said Steven Choi, executive director of MinKwon Center for Community Action. The organization defends immigration rights for Koreans and the overall Asian community, which accounts for 1 million undocumented immigrants nationwide. This solidarity, Choi added, empowers undocumented Asians to stand up for themselves, and enlist in an open fight for a path to citizenship.

Whether one believes immigration reform is a civil rights issue, there's still the argument that it's good policy. Many immigration specialists point out that current immigration laws actually keep immigrants undocumented longer, and as a result, increase the danger of creating an underclass.

"Whatever one thinks of the situation that created today's large undocumented population, one can easily see how much the presence of such a large, permanent population who are part of our nation economically, socially, and culturally, but not politically, ill serves a democratic society," immigrant sociologists conclude in the book Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Coming of Age. "If we are truly concerned about the integration of the children of immigrants into American society, policies that keep their parents undocumented can only be judged highly counterproductive."

It is this idea that democracy only works when everyone living in society participates that makes immigration reform both right and smart.

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