By Erfan Faridmoayer
Immigration reform has always been a subject of heated discussion in American politics. Whether the government at the time has been for or against it, the intensity of the debate gives clue to its importance, and the need for legislators as well as the public to critically address the issue.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama briefly commented on the need for immigration reform. Advocating for a bipartisan approach, the President called for an effort to initiate preparations for the reform. This message, nonetheless, was lost in some of the President’s comments regarding the current uncooperative atmosphere in Congress. With such a deep division between the Executive and Legislative branches, attempts to revisit the country’s immigration laws have once again been put on hold.
This was not the first time, and certainly not the last time, that party affiliations have taken precedence over much needed political action. Personal interests have diverted the mission of many legislators from addressing the long term needs of the nation to the short term requirements of re-election. Surprisingly, passing an immigration reform could be of great benefit to both parties: Democrats could have a chance to secure seats in the Senate and Republicans could increase their chances of reelection by gaining the backing of many minority groups who support the reform.
It is worthy of mentioning, however, that an immigration reform has the potential to change voting demographics in the long run. If the current undocumented immigrants gain the opportunity to become legal citizens of the United States, they will very likely vote for the party who has supported them in their naturalization process. An additional concern with the legalization of undocumented immigrants is that the competition for the job market will heavily increase. Many Americans are concerned about losing their jobs due to this situation.
Left out of the debate, however, is the need to take a more holistic view towards the population that an immigration reform will impact, and not narrowly focus on policies surrounding undocumented immigrants. A temporary solution will address the current illegal immigrants in the United States and set more strict regulations on the country’s southern borders. A long-term resolution, on the other hand, will also address many of the issues all immigrants encounter, whether they enter the country through legal or illegal means.
Regardless of the means of entry, immigrant families face many obstacles when finding a job, establishing monetary credit, financing a house, or saving for the next generation’s university tuition. Many individuals enter the U.S. with significant work experience, or with a highly educated background. In many occasions, these credentials will be valued less in America as would have in their country of origin.
For example, physicians who have been educated and have practiced in foreign nations cannot use their medical license to immediately begin practicing in the United States. As reported by The New York Times, America has restricted the ability of immigrant physicians to continue their specialty. This has led to these individuals pursuing occupations in pre-medical teaching, nursing, or in fields very distant from their professions in healthcare. If foreign educated physicians want to continue practicing their original specialty, they have to go through a relatively long and costly residency training, a process they have already completed in the earlier years of their medical education abroad. In addition, their chances of matching into residency programs are significantly lower than those of American graduates. Unfortunately, these extended limitations are present in a time when skilled physicians are most needed. As the affordable health care act goes into effect, there will be an immediate rise in demand for physicians in the United States. With the current shortage of physicians in many fields, foreign trained physicians will become an unutilized resource in overcoming this challenge.
This is not to suggest that there should be no restrictions in regulating the quality of medicine being practiced in America. For many decades, the United States has set a global standard for the medical field. To achieve this standard, strict regulations need to insure a safe medical practice. However, these barriers should not exceed a level that will prevent qualified healthcare providers from practicing their profession solely due to being educated in another nation. A constructive solution should assess the skill-set of foreign trained physicians and tailor their American medical certification respectively.
America has always been a land of immigrants, welcoming individuals and families from a variety of backgrounds, providing them with a safe haven to prosper and succeed in their new home. To sustain this attitude, previously established regulations need to be updated to accommodate the current influx of both legal and undocumented immigrants. In a larger perspective, it becomes clear that immigration reform needs to address a much broader scope. The legal status of currently undocumented immigrants or their belonging to a minority group should not be used as the core argument when addressing immigration reform. Government regulations need to be adjusted to accommodate skills learnt in foreign countries, and educate unskilled immigrants who aim to establish a reliable occupation.
Facts from Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and The New York Times