For months we have been pushing mainstream media to begin to focus more on our broken immigration system, with a few exceptions the media has ignored much of the debate. With the recent deal struck between Bush and Kennedy we are now seeing mainstream media- papers, sunday talk shows, and local newsrooms jumping to find immigrants to interview and stories to push- but are they getting it right?
I woke up bright and early on Sunday to soak in the sunday morning political news shows all of which made some mention of the proposed immigration bill in passing. Pithy remarks were shared and deals were discussed. But the heart of the immigration debate remains in the shadows. While politicos debate the importance of immigration as a wedge issue many overlook the real impact of the broken immigration system on millions of american’s lives:
– Child abuses: A six-year old US citizen was held in detention for over 10 hours after ICE officials raided his home in the middle of the night and refused to let him stay with other family members; hundreds of children are being held in prisons such as Don Hutto in Texas and are suffering emotional and physical trauma from raids and displacement… the stories of child abuses mount each week. Some of the papers have covered these stories, but NO actions have been taken to help these young people.
– Local Industry in Limbo: Over the last few weeks we have been hearing consistent local media reports that farmers and local industry will be at a major loss without immigration, and reform of the visa system. The status quo in the US is hurting our local businesses.
– Wasteful, Unworkable Immigration Practices: On average, American taxpayers spend over $8,000 per person to arrest and deport an undocumented immigrant. We can no longer continue to fund inefficient and unworkable immigration policies.
– Worker’s Rights: US workers across the country are negatively affected by the lack of worker protections for immigrants. Without better worker protections for immigrant workers, we are unable to raise the working conditions of all workers in the US. Few news outlets have made this connection.
– Exponential Increase in Anti-Immigrant Violence: The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking the marked increase in homegrown hate groups targeting local immigrant communities. We’ve seen a rise in violent acts and hate speech against immigrants, and there is little public backlash to help fight off this growing wave in our own backyards.
– Unethical Administrative Practices: We have no effective oversight of our border police or ICE officials- just last week it was found that a man was wrongly deported to Guatemala after the New Bedford, MA raids under a mistaken identity- there has been no repercussions. We also heard news of two men being drugged against their will in transit during deportation. Last month, another lawsuit has been filed against border police in the wrongful shooting of a 22 year-old immigrant.
– Families threatened by Congress: Last week, House republicans suggested that immigrant families were not the bedrock of strong and prosperous communities in the US; making this ascertion in the face of numerous statistics that indicate that family based immigration actually raises the wages of the US worker.
These are just a few of the stories that should be in the media spotlight as we debate immigration reform in the US. It is time to dig deep into the experience of small towns, farming communities, urban centers and border communities across the country who are at the center of the immigration storm. We as advocates must continue to write to our local press and push these stories, because if we don’t say it, no one will say it for us!
There have been a slew of important editorials this weekend for CIR, here is a round up from the New York Times, LA Times, and the Washington Post.
The Immigration Deal
Published: May 20, 2007
The immigration deal announced in the Senate last week poses an excruciating choice. It is a good plan wedded to a repugnant one. Its architects seized a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul a broken system and emerged with a deeply flawed compromise. They tried to bridge the chasm between brittle hard-liners who want the country to stop absorbing so many outsiders, and those who want to give immigrants — illegal ones, too — a fair and realistic shot at the American dream.
But the compromise was stretched so taut to contain these conflicting impulses that basic American values were uprooted, and sensible principles ignored. Many advocates for immigrants have accepted the deal anyway, thinking it can be improved this week in Senate debate, or later in conference with the House of Representatives. We both share those hopes and think they are unrealistic. The deal should be improved. If it is not, it should be rejected as worse than a bad status quo.
The good. Part of the compromise is strikingly appealing. It is the plan to give most of the estimated 12 million immigrants here illegally the chance to live and work without fear and to become citizens eventually. The conditions are tough, including a $5,000 fine, and a wait until certain “trigger” conditions on border security are met and immigration backlogs are cleared. It requires heads of households to apply in their home countries, sending them on a foolish “touchback” pilgrimage. That is a large concession to Republican hard-liners, but they, too, have come a long way: consider that last year the House of Representatives wanted to brand the 12 million and those who gave them aid as criminals. A winding and expensive path to citizenship is still a path.
The bad. The deal badly erodes two bedrock principles of American immigration: that employers can sponsor immigrants to fill jobs and that citizens and legal permanent residents have the right to sponsor family members — young children and spouses, of course, but also their grown children, siblings and parents. The proposal would eliminate several categories of family-based immigration, and it would distribute green cards according to a point-based system that shifts the preference toward those who have education and skills but not necessarily roots in this country. Supporters say that the proposal has been tweaked to give some weight to kinship, and that many immigrants would still be able to bring loved ones in. But the repellent truth is that countless families will be split apart while we cherry-pick the immigrants we consider brighter and better than the poor, tempest-tossed ones we used to welcome without question.
The awful. The agreement fails most dismally in its temporary worker program. “Temporary means temporary” has been a Republican mantra, motivated by the thinly disguised impulse to limit the number of workers, Latinos mostly, doing the jobs Americans find most distasteful. The deal calls for the creation of a new underclass that could work for two years at a time, six at the most, but never put down roots. Immigrants who come here under that system — who play by its rules, work hard and gain promotions, respect and job skills — should be allowed to stay if they wish. But this deal closes the door. It offers a way in but no way up, a shameful repudiation of American tradition that will encourage exploitation — and more illegal immigration.
It is painful, for many reasons, to oppose this immigration deal. It is no comfort to watch as this generation’s Know-Nothings bray against “amnesty” from their anchor chairs and campaign lecterns, knowing that it gives hope to the people they hate.
It is especially difficult because lives are in the balance. The millions without documents live in constant fear: a campaign of federal raids has spread panic and shattered families. Congress’s dithering has encouraged the rise of homegrown zealots: mayors, police departments, county executives and legislators who take reform into their own hands, with cruelly punitive measures. No amount of hostile legislation is going to drive the immigrants away. A collapsed immigration deal could put off reform for years, and encourage more of this cruelty.
It is the nation’s duty to welcome immigrants, to treat them decently and give them the opportunity to assimilate. But if it does so according to the outlines of the deal being debated this week, the change will come at too high a price: The radical repudiation of generations of immigration policy, the weakening of families and the creation of a system of modern peonage within our borders.
Breakthrough on Immigration
A bipartisan bill could mean a lasting fix for a broken system — if Congress works out the kinks.
The Washington Post
Friday, May 18, 2007; A22
THE BIPARTISAN deal on immigration announced in the Senate yesterday is a breakthrough: It probably represents the best hope in decades to fix this country’s non-functioning immigration system. Most important, it would allow millions of illegal immigrants already here to put themselves on the right side of the law and on a path toward eventual permanent residence. But like most rough drafts, this one needs work. It’s critical that in addressing one set of immigration problems, the legislation doesn’t create a new set.
Crafted with critical guidance from the Bush administration, the 380-page bill includes much to cheer about, not least the ideological range of its sponsors, from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). But their alliance also highlights the bill’s central political trade-off — legalization for 12 million immigrants already here in return for second-class status for hundreds of thousands of future low-skilled workers the U.S. economy needs each year.
Among the bill’s most constructive elements are provisions that would provide legal protection for hundreds of thousands of migrant agricultural workers; a fast track to permanent residence for immigrant college students and members of the military who entered the country as children; tighter border security; and a system for employers to verify that job applicants are here legally — with penalties for employers who fail to do so.
The bill recognizes that many of the 12 million illegal immigrants here, whose labor is critical to the economy, are here to stay and must be treated decently and realistically. They will have a path to permanent residence, but not one that can be disparaged as “amnesty.” In addition to establishing law-abiding records and good employment histories, they will have to wait eight years before applying for permanent resident status, pay $5,000 in fines (less than the White House proposed) and, in the case of heads of households, leave the country and reenter legally. That last provision — a sop to the anti-immigrant crowd — is absurd and mean-spirited; it would be a burden for many hard-working immigrants.
The bill also would provide relief for an estimated 4 million or more foreign relatives of U.S. residents and citizens who, having applied for visas to be reunited with their families before spring 2005, now face waits of up to 22 years. Under the bill, an additional 240,000 green cards would be granted annually to clear the backlog within eight years. But future visa rules would favor highly educated and job-qualified applicants over many categories of relatives, such as adult siblings and grown children. In a globalized economy, that may make sense, but it will exact a real human cost.
The bill’s most troubling aspect is its treatment of the future annual flow of 400,000 to 600,000 low-skilled workers needed to satisfy the demand for labor. They would have to leave every two years and stay out of the country for a year, for a maximum of six years’ work here — a system that invites rule-breaking by workers and employers and raises the specter of a future class of illegal immigrants. That is precisely the problem this bill was intended to solve.
The Senate reaches a creative compromise, but that doesn’t mean it’ll ever become law.
Los Angeles Times
THERE HAVE BEEN many “breakthroughs” on immigration reform over the last two years, but the one reached by Senate negotiators Thursday came with at least two things we haven’t seen before: a realistic, bipartisan plan for legalizing illegal immigrants and a meritocratic overhaul of the haphazard system for awarding visas. But this hopeful moment, like previous ones, may come to naught, pushing long-overdue reform back at least two years.
The agreement’s controversial centerpiece is the new “Z visa” for undocumented residents. If the compromise eventually becomes law, all who came to the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2007, could obtain probationary legal status by passing a criminal background check, submitting fingerprints and filling out an application. Longer-term Z visas would be handed out after applicants pay thousands of dollars in fines and fees, pass tests in English and civics and demonstrate continuous employment. Heads of households would be required to return to their country before obtaining a green card, and Z visa holders would be ineligible for upgrading their status until all the existing immigration backlog is cleared away.
After years of bruising debate over “amnesty” — the misleading term preferred by legalization opponents — it’s remarkable that the Z visa gained bipartisan acceptance. There seems to be mounting appreciation for the fact that 12 million people living in legal shadows is corrosive to the rule of law.
Also encouraging is the agreement’s point system for green cards, attempting to quantify the attributes most desirable among would-be immigrants. Factors such as education, work history and English ability would be scored to determine who gets priority for green cards, rather than just the usual family connection or employer endorsement. Although deemphasizing family unification goes against historic U.S. policy, the point plan would align policy more closely to another American ideal — meritocracy. And those family members already in line would be helped by nearly half a million visas a year for people who applied before the spring of 2005. Visas for farmworkers and high-tech talent also would be increased.
Other elements of the plan are more dubious. A proposed guest worker program could prove too rigid by being renewable only twice, with a one-year gap in between. Care would have to be taken to avoid creating a new population of illegal immigrants.
But the single most objectionable aspect of the plan is that it probably won’t pass. The Senate has been here before, but the House has never embraced comprehensive reform. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has already expressed “serious concerns” about the bill, and the freshman class of Democrats does not seem enthusiastic.
The consequences of failure this spring would be catastrophic — not only would serious reform likely be put off until after the 2008 election, but few of the presidential candidates seem eager to tackle the issue. The country can’t wait until 2009.