Commentary on bipartisan Senate proposal for immigration reform
We need legalization for all starting now!
San José, CA – On Monday, January 28, a bipartisan group of eight Senators, four Democrats and four Republicans, announced a framework for “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” or CIR. On Jan. 29, President Obama will be putting out his position, marking the beginning of an effort to “reform” U.S. immigration law this year.
Unfortunately the Senate proposal is not what the community needs and justice demands; indeed, it is often quite the opposite. Instead of legalization for all, the proposal resorts to wording reserved for criminals, saying that the undocumented had to “pay their debt to society” through a background check, fines and back taxes. Those who pass, and have paid taxes would get a temporary visa and still not be eligible for government benefits. They would have to learn English and civics just to apply for legal residency, which is not the case for other immigrants.
In addition, the proposal says that the undocumented who manage to get by all these obstacles would have to wait until everyone who was waiting in line gets their legal residency. With some of the waiting lists for visa lasting twenty years or more, this could mean that the undocumented would have to wait for an entire generation for legalization.
Even worse, the proposal says that the undocumented must show a history of work and current employment to get legal permanent residency. Thus those who apply for a temporary visa in hopes of permanent residency must keep a job in order to qualify. What this would do would turn the undocumented into a huge group of foreign workers who must accept any job at any wage in order to get permanent legal residency in the United States. This is not a legalization program; this appears to be a mammoth -numbering in the millions – guest workers program.
Over the past fifteen years, deportations have soared from about 20,000 a year during President Clinton’s first term to around 400,000 a year today. This has split up thousands of families. The militarization of the border has increased, causing thousands of people to die trying to cross into the United States. The number of undocumented has actually dropped from about 14 million five years ago to about 11 million today.
Yet the Senate proposal insists on the worn and inhumane “enforcement first” doctrine, saying that no undocumented would get legal residency until the borders are certified as “secure”. The proposal goes further, in calling for the development of tracking system for everyone entering the United States on temporary (tourist, student, etc.) visas by plane or ship. While past enforcement has mainly been aimed at Mexican and Central Americans coming over the border, this proposal would target more Asians and South Americans who make up a growing minority of undocumented immigrants.
The Senate proposal also calls for an expansion of employment verification of legal status. While the proposal does not explicitly call for a national identification card, it does state that they “believe requiring prospective workers to demonstrate both legal status and identity, through non-forgeable electronic means prior to obtaining employment,” which sounds like a national identification card to me.
The Senate proposal, while coming down hard on undocumented workers and their families, wants to make it easier for business to get all the workers that they want. The proposal calls for granting legal residency to foreign students who get a Masters or PhD in science, math, and engineering from U.S. universities. It calls for expanding temporary worker programs for agriculture, low-skilled jobs, and indeed any business that says that they can’t get American workers.
The proposal does call for easing the legalization of undocumented who came as children and for agricultural workers. This shows the importance of the militant and mass struggle waged by undocumented youth to pass a DREAM act and eventually led to the President’s order for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. But given all the hurtful policies proposed, it would be better to have narrow bill for speeding legalization of these groups, and in particular the DACA undocumented youth, than a “comprehensive” bill that does much harm. In addition the bipartisan proposal mentions the need to reduce the waiting list for legal immigration, which is the key to limiting unauthorized entries in the future. However there is absolutely nothing specific mentioned, unlike the other proposals, making it more likely that the Senators are paying lip service to the idea.
Last but not least, there are many important policies that the bipartisan proposal does not mention. There is no mention of stopping the deportations that are breaking up families and traumatizing whole communities. There is no mention of changing the immigration policy to recognize the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) people.
The Senate bipartisan proposal reflects the problems of top-down immigration reform, where business interests, the agricultural industry, and anti-immigrant forces have more influence than working people in the community. In order to win immigration reform that does more to help and not more to hurt immigrants, their families, and their communities, a bigger and more militant mass movement is needed. A central part of this will be response of Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Central Americans who have been hit the hardest by immigration injustice in this country. But it is also important that Asian Americans, South Americans, Arab Americans, and others with large immigrant population become more active in the struggle for justice for immigrants.