Montana needs comprehensive immigration reform. Let’s put politics aside and look at reality.
Montanans care about family, strong communities and a booming state and national economy. From talking to my neighbors and reading the news, I know Montanans are very concerned about the federal deficit, as we should be. What few of us realize, however, is that the Congressional Budget Office says the Senate immigration bill (S.744) will dramatically reduce our national deficit. The reality is, immigration reform is part of keeping America, and therefore Montana, on the path to prosperity.
The reality is also that both Montana and the United States have graying populations with birthrates below the replacement level. This means that our state (and America) needs to worry about filling a workforce left vacant by retirees — a workforce whose taxes can replenish Social Security’s coffers. Immigrants who have access to a roadmap to earned citizenship can fill that critical dual role.
Commonsense immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship for Montana’s estimated 5,000 aspiring new Americans would bring those benefits, while allowing these neighbors to fully participate in our schools, churches, and civic groups. Reform would also help reunite families and better protect them from being torn apart by detention and record-high numbers of deportations. As many of us can attest, unified families able to participate in our communities make our state more vibrant, robust and stable.
I know that I’m not alone in calling for immigration reform. As a member of the Naval Reserves, a former refugee, and a Helena community member, I’ve seen all types of people support reform. From naturalization ceremonies I’ve witnessed to discussions I’ve had with elected officials, the compassion and welcome of Montanans has been evident to me. I’m confident that this spirit of welcome can and will grow.
The U.S. House of Representatives will soon return to Washington, D.C. from their August recess. When they set foot in the Capitol, we need them to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. We need to call on them to pass a bill with the needed roadmap to earned citizenship. We also need a fair bill that ensures the humane enforcement of U.S. immigration laws by downsizing the use of immigration detention and widening community support programs.
We must ask our U.S. representatives to ensure that such a bill protects families from separation and guarantees a sufficient supply of visas for families seeking to reunite. Moreover, we need a bill that would make adequate resources and protections available to ensure the smooth assimilation of refugees and other vulnerable migrants. Finally, we need a bill that better guarantees the security of both native-born and new American members of the workforce.
I’m encouraged that the U.S. Senate passed S.744, and I’m proud that Montana Sens. Baucus and Tester both voted in favor of the bill, keeping true to the Montana way of kindness and welcome.
The reality is, the health and well-being of our state depend not just on what we do here in Montana, but also on what happens with the United States as a whole. The numbers show that comprehensive immigration reform at the national level would bring economic and social benefits to Montana. Now is the time to quit letting politics get in the way of doing the right thing. We need the House to act right away and pass a fair and compassionate immigration reform bill.
Wilmot Collins works at the VA Montana as Administrative Officer/Minority Veterans Coordinator and is also an active member of Montana Immigration Justice Alliance (MIJA), Montana Human Rights Network, and The Refugee Center online. Wilmot and his family live in Helena.