Americans Want a Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants


Laurene Powell Jobs and Marshall Fitz

Three weeks, three immigration executive orders. Instead of a balanced approach to restore the rule of law and enhance our security in a rational and humane way, these measures are creating fear and chaos in communities across the country. They take a sledgehammer to our nation’s identity as a country that welcomes immigrants, rescues refugees, and aspires to treat people equally and with dignity regardless of creed, color, economic status, or birthplace.

Taken together, these measures:

  • render 11 million people enforcement priorities as undocumented immigrants, regardless of how long they have lived here, how deep their American roots, or how much they are contributing to our communities and economy, providing the rationale for a return to large scale disruptive and destabilizing raids;
  • expand fast-track removal mechanisms that will undermine due process and basic fairness;
  • make mandatory detention the norm rather than the exception, and call for a massive expansion of immigration jails, favoring private prison companies at the expense of taxpayers and due process;
  • call for hiring an additional 10,000 ICE agents and 5,000 Border Patrol agents, dramatically expanding the size and cost of our deportation apparatus;
  • attempt to conscript state and local police into service as immigration agents, diminishing the trust of communities and our collective safety;
  • block the admission of refugees fleeing lethal violence and deter asylum seekers from requesting protection;
  • direct the Department of Homeland Security to construct a costly, unnecessary and ineffective border wall; and
  • single out individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their religion.

What’s more, we understand that at least three additional punitive orders have been drafted and are under consideration. Those orders would: formally rescind the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program that is stalled in the courts, expire the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy eliminating critical protections for 750,000-plus immigrant youth, constrict legal immigration channels, and render immigrants and mixed status families ineligible for a vast array of public benefits.

These measures contain the components, authority, and rationale for a frontal assault on immigrant communities. When we sow fear in vulnerable populations and aggressively perpetuate an “us vs. them” narrative, our security is diminished, not enhanced. When people are locked out of the legal economy, they become vulnerable to workplace abuse, thereby undermining the rights of all workers. When people are afraid to report crimes for fear that they or their relatives will be targeted for immigration enforcement, criminals act with impunity and we are all less safe. When religious orientation becomes a basis for marginalization, security experts tell us, we breed resentment and radicalism.

We expect our leaders to pursue practical, common-sense immigration reforms that will unify, not divide us; strengthen families, not create chaos in communities; and inspire confidence in our government, not shake our faith. We know how to do this — it is not a question of design, but political will. In 2013, a bipartisan group of 68 senators voted for a bill that would deal realistically and responsibly with the millions of hardworking undocumented immigrants, bring the legal immigration system into the 21st century, and strengthen border security and employer accountability.

Americans overwhelmingly prefer thoughtful pragmatism and common-sense solutions to brutal enforcement that sows fear, chaos, and distrust. Indeed, on the central question of what to do about our large undocumented population, Americans overwhelmingly support creating a path to legal status over deportation. The highly respected Public Religion Research Institute, based on 120,000 interviews with Americans over three years — including over 40,000 interviews during the 2016 campaign season — found that our country’s views on immigration are remarkably stable. Seventy-nine percent of Americans support a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants already living here, compared to only 16 percent who prefer deportation; only 28 percent of Republicans favor deportation.

For the past eight years, we have had record investments in enforcement and historic levels of deportations. Yet dysfunction still reigns because the system’s architecture remains in disrepair. Since 2005, DHS spending on border and interior enforcement has nearly doubled. In fact, we currently spend close to $4 billion more on border and immigration enforcement than we do on all other federal law enforcement combined. And yet the undocumented population remains relatively static at around 11 million people, more than two-thirds of whom have lived here for more than a decade.

Americans across the country are marching against these policies and standing up for our country. Their energy, voices, and compassion demonstrate the enduring power of our foundational mantra: E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One. They signal a stark rejection of the divisive and monochromatic nationalism reflected in these orders.

We call on our leaders to hear their voices and strive to make America whole by advancing policies of inclusion. Only Congress can ultimately solve these challenges. Instead of exacerbating the problem through expanded enforcement of broken policies, the president should call on Congress to fix the system once and for all with the pragmatic and humane solutions that Americans support, consistent with our country’s values and principles.

Laurene Powell Jobs
President, Emerson Collective

Marshall Fitz
Managing Director, Immigration Policy, Emerson Collective