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Ed Rendell - PennDems & Penn for Immigrant Rights Credit: Alex Liao , Alex Liao

Former Pennsylvania Governor and 1965 College graduate Ed Rendell spoke about immigration reform last night at an event co-sponsored by Penn for Immigrant Rights and Penn Democrats to kick off Immigration Action Week.

Rendell is the Democratic chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which was founded by former Senate Majority Leaders in 2007 and supports political advocacy and outreach.

Rendell believes that one of the reasons immigration needs change is because the United States is losing too many qualified graduate students to their home countries after they graduate from American universities. He suggested providing visas to highly skilled workers.

“It is imperative that we get younger people to fill our work force needs,” Rendell said. According to Rendell, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats agree that workers contributing to the economy should be eligible for citizenship.

People who meet the criteria of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act should also be eligible, he said. The DREAM Act grants citizenship to immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors and then graduated from U.S. high schools. The Act applies to anyone who meets its criteria and arrived in the country in the five years preceding its enactment.

Additionally, E-Verification is a point of agreement between the two major political parties. E-Verification is an online software that allows employers to input the names of potential employees to check their immigration status.

Because past reforms were not as successful as anticipated, opponents to immigration reform are hesitant to pass a new bill proposed by Obama. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for instance, intended to stop illegal immigration as much as possible. Rendell argued that the Act failed because it focused on border security.

He said that current illegal residents, instead, are the problem. Forty percent of illegal immigrants in the U.S. today entered the country legally with green cards and work visas. However, when their paperwork expires, they frequently remain in the country. Rendell believes the new bill will focus on the naturalization process and therefore avoid the shortcomings of past bills.

Some opponents believe that illegal immigrants should never be allowed citizenship because they consider it “amnesty” and a reward for breaking the law. They propose having two classes of residents: legal citizens and permanent residents who are not deported, but do not have the right to vote.

Rendell thinks illegal immigrants should eventually be awarded citizenship. He believes they should pay fines, show English ability and then have a 13-year “probationary” period. They would be eligible for citizenship at the end of the period.

Other Republicans are hesitant to pass the bill because an influx of immigrants could sway the political dynamic in favor of the Democratic Party.

Rendell concluded his talk by discussing the cultural implications of immigration. He compared the backlash against Latino immigrants to the opposition that Irish and Jewish immigrants faced in the past. “I think a fairly substantial majority of Americans understand the value of immigrants,” he said.

Other events during Immigration Action week will include an immigration policy panel on Wednesday and a demonstration of immigrant identity on College Green on Friday .

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