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As the 2016 presidential campaign has progressed, it has become clear the issue of immigration represents one of the fundamental differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have pledged to work toward comprehensive immigration reform as president and routinely acknowledge our country’s history as a nation of immigrants. They celebrate our culture’s diversity and respect the unique contributions of Americans from all backgrounds who make America better. On the Republican side, however, the presidential contenders have launched one diatribe after another to disrespect and dehumanize immigrants.

Donald Trump has pushed for a wall to prevent immigrants from entering the country and has called Mexican immigrants “killers” and “rapists.” Jeb Bush has attacked Asian mothers for giving birth to “anchor babies” and has argued that multiculturalism is the “wrong approach” for America. Bobby Jindal stated that immigration without assimilation equals “invasion,” and he has repeatedly condemned the practice of hyphenating our nationality with our ethnicity. The list of insults goes on and on.

These comments are not only hurtful and inappropriate, but they also display either utter contempt for the diversity of our country or complete ignorance of our nation’s history. Contrary to America’s description as a “melting pot,” we are more like trail mix — where each American retains her or his unique identity while contributing to something greater. Yes, Americans, on average, cherish certain values, such as liberty, democracy and equality of opportunity, and share many common aspirations — namely, to build a better life for oneself and one’s family. These principles and dreams are indispensable to the American character. They guide our country toward a more perfect union. Americans, though, have many differences, and these dissimilarities are truly what make this country exceptional.

What would America be without its multiculturalism? When we look out at the American landscape, we see Catholic churches next to Jewish temples, Chinese restaurants next to French bistros, Latin dance studios next to Jazz clubs. Our country should continue to harness the talents and goodness of people from all over the globe to energize and enrich the American experiment. In order to do this most effectively, Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform is about so much more than a debate about what to do on our Southern border. Millions of nonimmigrant visa holders from all over the world remain in the United States with a nonexistent or extremely difficult and long path to permanent residency. They have to endure lawful discrimination in the search for employment, even though they often have degrees from leading U.S. universities. Furthermore, when these people lose their job for any reason, they can be forced to leave the U.S. within 60 days. This happens to people who, in some cases, have lawfully lived in the U.S. for years on various nonimmigrant visa statuses. These are people who have embraced America and contributed greatly to our country. We should welcome them permanently, not kick them out.

While high-skilled workers are important targets of immigration, we must not turn a cold shoulder to less fortunate individuals who have come to America from countries stained with violence or characterized by poverty in search of a fresh start in the land of opportunity. These people and their families should be welcomed as well, for they have a great deal to contribute to the strength and vitality of our country.

We had the opportunity to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, when a bill passed the Senate 68-32, a vote that included 14 Republicans. The bill would have increased the number of visas available for people to come to America legally, and it would have established a 13-year path to citizenship for those already in the country willing to go through several rigorous benchmarks. The bill also provided increased security at the border. But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to pass the bill, stopping immigration reform in its tracks.

Two years later, we have not seen any meaningful action on immigration reform. That must change. There are too many refugees waiting at our border, too many people trying to come to America fairly and legally and too many people fighting for the chance at a better life, for us to ignore.

As we look ahead to 2016, we urge you to make sure you know where each candidate — and each party more broadly — stands on immigration reform.

— Sean Foley C’16 & Max Levy C’17

Penn Democrats Representatives

Toe the Line examines issues from two different sides. Click here to view the College Republicans side.

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