Congress Must Address Real Roots of Immigration

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“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

This passage from the Gospel of Matthew inviting us to welcome strangers into our midst could not be more salient than it is now, as our lawmakers embark on the long-awaited debate over immigration reform.

Senate hearings recently began after both President Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida made a strong call for comprehensive immigration reform during and after the State of the Union address. Their statements were encouraging, but lawmakers have their work cut out for them in the coming months — and millions of lives depend on reform.

Here’s the missing piece: Any discussion of immigration reform must recognize the international causes that drive unauthorized migration to the United States: hunger, poverty, lack of economic opportunity and inequality. Without addressing the root causes, the numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the United States will continue to rise.

Millions of people have traveled to the U.S. to escape dire conditions back home. With visa wait times exceeding 23 years, many immigrants feel they have no choice but to enter the U.S. illegally to seek a better life for their families. Without reforming our development policies to address the underlying issues of poverty and economic opportunity in other countries, increased border security and tightened laws will not stop the swell of unauthorized migration across our borders.

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