The news that President Obama plans to put immigration back into the political debate is very welcome. The economic crisis has made this issue even more urgent for two reasons:

  1. The crisis has made many immigrant workers even more vulnerable to abuse.

    Ai-jen Poo, of the National Alliance of Domestic Workers, points out that when 10,000 Wall Street jobs are lost, 10,000 domestic workers’ jobs are in jeopardy. Poo reports that workers who remain employed are facing escalating labor and other human rights abuses as employers take advantage of these workers, who tend to be immigrants and are isolated in individual homes. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network reports similar problems facing their constituents. Latinos working in the housing industry were among the earliest and hardest hit by the crisis.

  2. The global impacts of the crisis are intensifying immigration pressures in developing countries.

    The immigration debate needs to extend beyond domestic measures. Reducing poverty and joblessness abroad is the only real solution to immigration concerns in this country. President Obama should follow through on promises to promote debt cancellation for impoverished countries, one of the most effect ways to fight poverty. He should also see his plans to reform trade policies as an opportunity to repeal rules, such as the agriculture provisions in NAFTA, that have caused massive unemployment in the Mexican countryside.

Once migrants arrive in the United States, their basic human rights need to be protected. Given a choice, however, most people would prefer to stay in their home country. The Obama administration’s immigration plan should include initiatives to help create the opportunities that will give more people that choice.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project of the Institute for Policy Studies and is a member of the New Economy Working Group.

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