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Immigration Uproar - How Did We Get Here

The Columbus City Council just passed a nonbinding resolution of support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The resolution calls for tighter border security paired with reasonable steps to integrate all immigrants into the social, economic and political fabric of local communities and to shake free the resources to do the job.

It turns out that most Ohioans support the call for sensible, humane federal reform. A state poll conducted in April found that Ohioans prefer a comprehensive approach to reform over approaches that focus on border security or deny amnesty by 20 percentage points or more.

In sharp contrast, Arizona's new immigration law compels police officers to demand papers from, and possibly deport, people they SUSPECT of being in the country illegally. If you've heard that most Americans support that law, the humanity of the majority position in Ohio may surprise you. It'll definitely surprise you if you've read about all the angry calls into Columbus Mayor Coleman's office last month after he banned city government workers from traveling to Arizona in protest of the law.

However, just about every major national poll on attitudes about immigration suggests that most Americans agree with most Ohioans. Majorities repeatedly reject enforcement-only plans in favor of more comprehensive alternatives that allow undocumented immigrants to stay under certain conditions and include a path to citizenship. Here at home, two in three likely voters in Ohio would support such a plan.

As the debate continues both nationally and here in Ohio, please ask yourself WHY undocumented immigrants come to the US in the first place. Most come from Mexico and hundreds die trying to cross the border every year. Thousands get turned back, only to try and try again in many cases. For those who make it, success is bittersweet. They leave loved ones behind - children, maybe; husbands and wives, friends, all they've known. And they do so knowing that reunion will be difficult at best. The work they do in this country is often hard, dangerous, underpaid or unpaid, exploitative Why would rational people take this option?

When President Clinton signed NAFTA in 1993, he said, QUOTE, "Pass NAFTA, and we will have jobs for Mexicans in Mexico. Defeat NAFTA, and there will be a tremendous flow of Mexicans to the United States." Exactly the opposite happened, as corn and other products subsidized by the US government drove two million Mexican farmers and their families out of business, into poverty, and, in some cases, across the border. As we consider what real, fair immigration reform would look like for our state and our country, let's ask we got to this place to begin with.

Andrew Grant Thomas is a WOSU Commentator and serves as deputy Director of OSU's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. We welcome your thoughts - e-mail them to feedback@wosu.org.