The “Gang of Eight” Senators have unveiled their bipartisan immigration reform proposal. It offers a pathway to citizenship which could improve the lives of millions of undocumented immigrants, though for most immigrants the path is extremely long, difficult, and it would exclude a not insignificant number of people. We must fight for everyone to be included and for the process to be less restrictive and punitive.
As many also feared, the proposal contains repression, militarization, and discrimination. The first part of the proposal is a radical increase in the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. This includes $3 billion for increased border surveillance, increased presence of Border Patrol and Customs agents, and unmanned aerial drones. This will be supplemented by $1.5 billion for more border fences. As in the past, instead of preventing migrants from crossing the border, militarization just forces people to cross at more dangerous points, increasing deaths.
Immigrants that enter the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status aren’t eligible to become Lawful Permanent Residents until the new Border Security and Fencing strategies have been implemented, a mandatory nationwide employment verification system is in place, and an electronic exit system is installed at all air and sea ports.
MIRAc believes that every person has the right to move where they feel they will best be able to provide for their families and create a better future. This is especially true under globalized capitalism and free trade agreements like NAFTA that open borders for money and products but not people. As long as capital is able to move freely, people must be able to move freely too.
At the same time, MIRAc believes that no one should be forced to migrate due to poverty, war, or discrimination. The immigration reform proposal does nothing to address these root causes of migration. U.S.-backed wars and exploitative economic policies that continue in Latin America will keep driving people to migrate north.
To be considered for the new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status, a person must have lived in the U.S. before December 31, 2011 and maintained a continuous presence here since then, pay a $500 fine, back taxes and other fees (DREAM Act eligible youth are exempted from some fees). Many immigrants who send remittances to their children back home are not allowed to claim their children as dependents on their taxes, an injustice which this proposal does nothing to fix. Immigrants will be ineligible for RPI status if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony, gross misdemeanor, or three misdemeanors, or have unlawfully voted. RPI is temporary and must be renewed after 6 years (for an additional $500 fee).
After 10 years in RPI status, immigrants could adjust to Lawful Permanent Resident status and apply for a green card. To do this immigrants must have stayed in the U.S., paid all taxes, worked continuously, demonstrate a working knowledge of Civics and English, paid a $1000 fine and all people currently backlogged waiting for green cards must be processed. Immigrants eligible for the DREAM Act or the Agricultural Program can get their green cards in 5 years, and apply for citizenship immediately after.
This means that it will be at least 10 years before most immigrants will be eligible for a green card, and at least 3 more years before applying for citizenship. And politicians have many excuses to postpone the process even longer, like if border militarization benchmarks aren’t met or visa backlogs aren’t cleared.
And what happens to immigrants who fail the background check, or elderly immigrants who haven’t learned English? What happens to day laborers who have no documentation of their work history? Any new immigrants arriving to the U.S. after the arbitrary December 31, 2011 cut-off date will be forced even deeper into the underground economy.
The proposal follows a “security and enforcement” framework, criminalizing undocumented workers and pitting “worthy” against “unworthy” immigrants. Instead of receiving the immediate legalization they deserve, immigrants will be forced into a second-class status for over a decade before even knowing if they’ll qualify for legal permanent residency or citizenship.
Another key part of the proposed legislation is a drastic increase in workplace repression. The E-Verify program, which verifies employees’ immigration status, would change from optional to mandatory. Everyone – not just immigrants – will have to show a biometric ID card when applying for a job. Mandatory E-Verify is the first step in the implementation of massive programs that the FBI is developing to track all people in the U.S., and is also the first step toward a national ID card, which many people concerned with civil liberties oppose.
The new proposal also reorganizes the work visa system. The Diversity Visa (through which many African immigrants come to the U.S.) and visas for siblings of U.S. citizens are eliminated, while H-1B visas for highly-skilled workers increase. Immigrants with more education, higher-skilled jobs, and a longer time in the U.S. will get visas, while immigrants who lack education or job training are left out.
At the same time, the proposal creates a new system of temporary visas for farm workers, and a new W-Visa for immigrants who work in “lower-skilled” jobs, like construction, meatpacking, or factories. Workers can come for up to 3 years, and will be tied to a specific employer and job. Although they can seek work with a new W-Visa employer, they can’t be out of work for more than 60 days. The new proposal promises workers higher wages and some labor protections, but in the past these types of guest worker programs have been rife with abuse.
“Secure Communities” deportation program would continue, and local police, jails and employers are dragged further into becoming immigration enforcers.
Some may say this deal is the best we can hope for, and that a pathway to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants is worth trading for increasing deaths on the border, discriminating against workers, deepening police-immigration integration, and shutting future immigrants out. While there are some advances in the proposal, it’s not enough. Our starting point shouldn’t be to accept a compromise with so much repression. We must continue to demand basic human rights and equality for all people. Now is the time to raise our voices and be in the streets. Through struggle, we can make the politicians do better.
We demand an immediate legalization for all immigrants, without chains. We can’t continue to let families be ripped apart as legal status separates parents from children, and keeps families without the means to support themselves. Merecemos mas! It is unconscionable for the US government to treat immigrants who came here to feed their families as criminals. Merecemos mas! No more deportations! Unconditional legalization for all now!