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Pearce’s proposal not middle ground

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce’s Oct. 3rd op-ed column “Offer middle ground to fix immigration” exemplified the congressman’s effort to package his opposition to a roadmap to citizenship for our country’s immigrants into a purported “middle of the road” guest worker program.

Make no mistake; the Senate immigration bill was already a difficult and pragmatic move to the center for both sides. Yet Pearce’s limited “guest worker” plan represents an immoral proposal to instate a permanent caste system, keep 11 million immigrants as second-class, and never grant those families the chance at dignity or the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.

Pearce’s proposal does nothing to honor the chance to pursue the American Dream for immigrants desperate to earn a life outside of the shadows in our country. Those hard-working immigrant families are our neighbors, classmates, fellow churchgoers, taxpayers and owners of thriving local businesses.

Yet the Southern Poverty Law Center itself recently characterized proposed guest worker programs as “close to slavery.” We don’t have to look farther than the dark history of the “bracero” program and its devastation to so many Latino families to understand why such a limited proposal is offensive to many.

Confining so many to a status tantamount to indentured servitude is not a New Mexican value. Unlike the sharp anti-immigrant measures taken by our neighboring states like Arizona, we’re proud in New Mexico of having taken a much more integrative approach. New Mexico was one of the pioneering states enabling immigrants to apply for drivers’ licenses. Our state Constitution includes a provision for bilingual government.

A recent poll conducted by Latino Decisions revealed that 60 percent of New Mexican Latinos have an undocumented family member, friend or co-worker. A guest-worker program alone would treat these individuals as disposable workers and confine them to systematic exploitation, uncertain futures and low wages.

They’d be inhibited from changing jobs because of poor conditions and bound to the employers who “imported” them. According to a 2013 poll conducted by Third Eye Strategies of 400 active voters in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional district, only 10 percent of voters in Pearce’s congressional district preferred a guest worker program with no possibility of citizenship to giving immigrants some light at the end of the tunnel.

Immigrants are a vital part of our economy, and permanent legal status would create an estimated 11,000 jobs in Pearce’s district alone, according to the American Action Network. Their prosperity and contributions as taxpayers make our communities stronger. That’s why his dehumanization of so many of our immigrant neighbors strikes a chord in our communities.

Latinos across the country are paying close attention to this topic (immigration policy is important to the votes of 79 percent of Latinos according to a recent Latino Decisions poll). For many of us, the question is a moral one.

Pearce has good reason to be concerned about the impending clash between the ideology behind that approach and the core values of the most Latino congressional district represented by a Republican in the country.

Still, Pearce’s gamble with resisting any path to citizenship for immigrants stands to help pile on the diminishing relationship between the Republican Party and Latinos.

We take pride in a New Mexican belief that it’s not where you were born that makes you an American; it’s how you contribute to the strengthening of our country that counts. Withholding the American dream from honest hard-working immigrant families indefinitely and confining them to a living second class not only offends so many of our core values; it also risks continuing the tailspin of the GOP brand amongst Latinos.

That, for the nation’s most Hispanic congressional district represented by a Republican, should not be credited as offering a “middle ground to fix immigration.”