By Tracy Emblem

Although the federal government is responsible for immigration policy, Arizona recently passed its own radical state immigration bill moving the national debate from the back burner. We are increasingly hearing angry emotional sound bites like "illegal immigrants" and phrases like "they’re breaking the law" to frame the debate of a very complex human and economic issue.

Americans must be honest about the cause of the problem. The truth is we have tolerated a sub-society living in "shadow" communities working for substandard wages, living in substandard housing, and when injured on the job, refused medical care all so we can have inexpensive goods and services.

Last December, Congress introduced a comprehensive immigration bill that streamlines the immigration process by providing a gateway to citizenship. Immigrant children living in the U.S. before the age of 16, who clear security and criminal background checks, and who pass general education requirements including English and civics can use an earned pathway to citizenship through education, community service or military service.

Clearly, Mexico must step up to the plate and respect our border. Obviously border "protection" is necessary. What is also clear is that U.S. tougher border enforcement will result in higher taxes to support an already overcrowded prison system. There is a finite amount of taxpayer dollars. Border "policing," "security" and "prisons" are a substantial taxpayer drain but do not produce gross domestic product.

Splitting families up or forcing children into foster care while deporting parents is not a good solution for those many families with immigrant parents but citizen children.

Notwithstanding the new law easily opens the door to civil rights violations to detain and jail people and force them to show a birth certificate or passport.

Now is the time for Congress to step up to the plate to solve the major cause of illegal immigration to our country. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about three-quarters of the nation’s undocumented immigrants are Hispanic, 59-percent originating from Mexico. Some economists say that NAFTA hurt Mexican farmers. Others say that Mexico’s protection of certain industries resulted in its lack of economic growth.

We need not focus blame. We must look for solutions. U.S. companies that do business in Mexico currently do not even pay minimum wage to their Mexican workers. Simply doing this would help establish a middle class in Mexico.

America’s immigration policy must be tied to a fair, strong and effective foreign and economic development policy with Mexico, built on equal partnership. If we are to solve this problem, Congress must find a way to insure that Mexico deals with its economic problems related to poverty, employment, healthcare, drug corruption, and democratic governance because unless we change our strategy, our immigration dilemma will continue with or without "immigration reform."

Real solutions begin by creating a middle class with good-paying jobs which build strong communities in the home land. If we do not encourage economic justice by building a middle class in Mexico and Central America where 95% of the wealth is held by 2% of the population, we will never solve the problem.

Ask yourself this question. How long would you watch your family starve before you would leave your home and walk three-thousand miles to get a job for which you risked death and live in fear of deportation. This is the question that many of our neighbors to the south ask themselves everyday.

[Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, California’s 50th District]

Tracy Emblem

Tracy Emblem