The immigration legislation being debated in Washington will have far reaching implications for Alameda County. In fact, if done correctly and comprehensively, it will be one of the most important reforms to reach our county in the past several decades.
I support a reform plan that is clear, fair and provides an affordable road to citizenship. The new system must be expeditious and promote family reunification, including for same-sex couples.
Alameda County is currently home to nearly 500,000 residents who were born outside of the United States. An estimated 124,000 of these immigrants are undocumented. While our county has continued to provide services to all, regardless of immigration status, the nonrecognition of tens of thousands of immigrant residents has prevented long term solutions to workforce, health care and public safety issues that affect us all.
Alameda County's future workforce is dependent on the education of our children. Although children born in the U.S. are legal citizens, thousands of the county's children are undocumented. These children often fall through the cracks because of threats of family deportation, poor economic status and lack of access to higher educational opportunities through government grants.
A clear path to citizenship will allow them to fully pursue the same educational opportunities that citizens receive.
The result will be the more skilled, independent and educated workforce that is required by our county employers in the 21st century.
Alameda County and our health care safety net have the most to gain if undocumented residents, over time, qualify for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
Currently, the county offers full service health care to more than 60,000 undocumented immigrants who do not qualify for other government programs.
This is an issue of both human rights and the general promotion of public health. The state subsidizes a portion of this care but is moving to withdraw support.
As the undocumented proceed along the path to citizenship under health care reform, it is our hope that they will qualify for public and private insurance under the ACA. This will save taxpayer money for all residents of Alameda County and improve our collective health status.
Finally, a pathway to citizenship will improve public safety by allowing undocumented immigrants to "come out of the shadows" and be actively involved in helping law enforcement keep our communities safe.
If Congress succeeds, it will have laid the groundwork for a growing economy and healthy communities for generations to come.
Wilma Chan is an Alameda County Supervisor.