For Maria Hinojosa, reforming our immigration system is a matter of both common sense and mutual benefit.
"Immigration reform has an effect on all of us, in terms of the economy, in terms of lost opportunities," Hinojosa said, in an interview with Robert Siegel during the most recent Public Agenda / CUNY Graduate Center Policy Breakfast.
Hinojosa spoke from her experiences as a Latina born in Mexico City and raised in Chicago who chose to become an American citizen after holding a Green Card for many years. Hinojosa, an award-winning journalist with NPR and PBS, also spends her days exploring the stories of native-born and immigrant Latinos around the country.
Hinojosa was both pragmatic and empathetic in expressing her view of immigration reform, pointing to the active recruitment of immigrant labor that existed historically and continues to this day. "The reality is that the actual history of this country has always depended on that cheap immigrant labor."
Before 2001, laborers - recruited or not - were able to pass back and forth between the border. The secure post-9/11 border, however, has forced an either/or choice on many and, Hinojosa said, "created this problem of having 11 million undocumented people... Not everyone wants to stay here; some people want to go home."
Many argue that a pathway to citizenship would effectively mean 11 million people get to cut the line. On this point, Hinojosa refers again to the active recruitment of immigrant labor, as well as her everyday experiences interviewing undocumented immigrants. "People don't want to live undocumented," Hinojosa said. "Every immigrant I know would be so happy if there was a line and a way to do this properly... It would be an enormously long line... but [at least] then we're resolving a problem."
Any solution for our broken immigration system will require an honest reckoning of both our country's future economic necessities and the persistent need for flexible flows of immigrant labor, Hinojosa said. "It behooves us as a country to have a conversation about who we are... how do we manage future flows, how do we deal with an American economy in which the only way it can grow is by opening up as opposed to closing down? What are the smart ways that we can talk about labor moving back and forth?"