by Berenice Alcala

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  A girl participates in a march denouncing the actions of Los Angeles riot police at a May Day immigrant rights rally at MacArthur Park on May 17, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. Demonstrators, journalists and police officers were injured at the end of the immigration march in MacArthur Park on May 1 when officers in riot gear used batons and fired 146 rounds of foam-rubber bullets at the journalists and marchers to disperse the crowd. A bipartisan group of senators has reached an agreement on a complex immigration reform package that would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants in the US and further beef up efforts to keep people from crossing the US-Mexico border illegally. The plan would prioritize education and skill-level over family connections of illegal immigrants who wish to gain residency after paying a $5,000 fine and leaving the US. Senate debate on the hot-button topic dividing both parties and carrying political risk is expected next week.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)More than twenty years have passed since former U.S. President Ronald Reagan passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, legalizing over three million undocumented immigrants. In August of 2012, via President Obama’s executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) provided young illegal immigrants with valid social security numbers and work permits. And recently, Congress and the President have speculated that all-inclusive immigration reform is necessary.  Illegal immigrants with a clear record and a history of hard work, paid taxes, assimilation to American culture and long-term in-country residence have earned the right to proper documentation and legal status.

Immigration reform in the United States is a must, and the sooner the better.  Congress and the President must work together to come to agreement and pass a bill that would benefit the millions of illegal immigrants across the nation. This reform will benefit everyone in the long run.  Legalizing immigrants in a way that leads to citizenship will improve our national and border security, and will encourage businesses to comply with federal hiring laws.

Negative perceptions about the illegal immigrant community are nothing new.  Assumptions that immigrants don’t pay taxes, are criminals, and are less educated have always been abundant. Yet evidence shows these assumptions to be false. Undocumented workers that manage to get jobs pay federal, state and social security taxes.  When it comes to criminality, illegal immigrants are less likely than citizens to commit violent crimes because of the fear of deportation.  A recent report from the Cato Institute shows that 3.5% of people born in America are currently incarcerated, compared to only 0.86% of those born outside our borders.

The question of education is harder to answer. Many undocumented college graduates face the impossibility of finding a job related to their studies; instead, the lack of documents forces them to find minimum wage jobs.  Lack of high-paying jobs poses another barrier for undocumented immigrants, since the price of college education is high and most do not qualify for any federal funded aid.

Many Democratic Congressmen already support comprehensive immigration reform. It’s time to get Republicans to support it as well.  “This is an issue that affects all communities.  The immigration reform issue is a human rights issue,” said U.S Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev).  Let your voice be heard. Urge Congress to come to an agreement. If both parties cooperate and work together, reform will benefit everyone.  Write to your state representatives reminding them and urging them that now is the right time for comprehensive immigration reform.

Undocumented immigrants work hard; they have earned the right to the documentation that will better their lives while bettering the country. “This time, action must follow. We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate,” said President Obama recently. Now is the time to act on immigration reform.