By Alan Bean
As comprehensive immigration reform wends its tortuous way through the legislative process, we have witnessed a lot of hand-wringing from politicians concerning “border security,” spiking welfare costs, crime, and fairness to those who became citizens the legal way. Rarely do we hear from the men and women who work with immigrants and advocate on their behalf. ICA, Immigrant Communities in Action, is a New York-based coalition of immigration reform groups. Today, they released a response to Senate Bill 744. They don’t like it. I am sharing the heart of their statement with you because it captures an emerging consensus within the immigration reform community. Some organizations worked so hard for so long to get a bill through the Senate that they are willing to hold their noses and live with a deeply flawed piece of legislation. But most of the reform organizations I monitor are deeply disappointed with the Senate’s immigration bill and this statement explains why.
Statement on the Senate Immigration Bill (S.B. 744) July 10, 2013
Immigrant Communities in Action
New York City
“A Call to Immigrant Organizations, Workers Centers, and Allies:
Building for a Just, Humane and Inclusive Immigration Reform, and Beyond”
On June 27, 2013, the Senate voted to pass its immigration bill with a bipartisan vote of 68 to 32. While the bill includes provisions that seem to benefit some segments of immigrant communities, we are disturbed by the many provisions that undermine the basic premise of a just, humane and inclusive “comprehensive” immigration reform:
1. S.B. 744 creates an onerous labyrinth of a gauntlet instead of a just a path to citizenship. While the bill seeks to offer a path to citizenship, and allow the millions of immigrants to come out of the shadows and become a recognized part of the social fabric, the specific provisions place many “thorns on the road” by making the process overly complex, financially unaffordable for many, and with an excessively long waiting period of 10-20 years. As these provisions would exclude millions of immigrants, either from the outset or due to the various obstacles, we will continue to have a large population of immigrants who would become even more marginalized and excluded than the current situation.
2. S.B. 744 permanently separates and destroys families. Healthy communities are made up of healthy families, and we function at our best when surrounded and supported by our loved ones. Current provisions that exclude or limit the definitions of family, or the ability to bring over siblings or adult children, or the ability of deported family members to return, undermine these principles and leave behind broken and incomplete families and communities.
3. S.B. 744 exacerbates human rights violations and institutionalizes the terrorizing of communities. In the name of security, the bill commits to dramatically increasing militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, which comes at the expense of the everyday security of millions of individuals, families, and communities. It would spend $46 billion to nearly double the number of border agents to 40,000, expand the use of drones, and construct around 700 miles of border fencing. Moreover, the bill outlines the creation of an alarming new military-immigration profit complex only benefiting companies with billions of wasted dollars in contracts for domestic drones, national I.D. system & databases, surveillance, profiling, and border police. We cannot have “border security” if we do not address our global economic, trade, and political policies which force so many people to migrate in the first place. Failure to fix the root causes in much of our foreign policies has had devastating consequences on our borders for the last two decades, with thousands of lives lost, and billions of dollars wasted. The ambiguous border security “triggers” also leave room for abuse, and a promise of legalization that may never come.
4. S.B. 744 allocates billions of dollars for private corporations to profit off the inhumane detention and deportation of immigrants. The many exceptions, and onerous requirements, in the path to citizenship set the stage for the massive expansion of the already devastating system of detentions and deportations of immigrants, which breaks apart our families and communities. The vested interests and input in the bill of the corporations that benefit from these policies is alarming.
5. S.B. 744 renders immigrant workers vulnerable to labor violations and modern-day slavery. The provisions of the bill that mandate various forms of continuous employment (such as exclusion if unemployed for more than 60 days during the provisional period of 10+ years) essentially place both immigrant workers and guest workers at the mercy and whims of their employers, and subject to abuse. This is compounded by a new national E-verify that would give employers a greater advantage to control immigrant workers – not just in terms of the value and terms of employment but also of immigration status. The E-verify program bolsters a new indentured worker system.
While we recognize that there are many immigrants who would benefit from the Senate bill, we also note that it excludes many other immigrants, often from the same family. Moreover, the bill does not meet many of the basic needs and demands of immigrant-led organizations, workers, families, and youth from across the country. We have built these ‘bottomline’ principles of a truly “comprehensive” reform through years of direct consultations with thousands immigrants, undocumented low-wage workers, citizens, and youth from diverse national and ethnic origins. The bill, however, grossly prioritizes the interests and profits of businesses and corporations. It sets the stage for the social and economic control of workers, through the creation of a military-immigration profit complex, databases, expansion of detentions and deportations, and criminalization of immigrants. The Senate bill must be exposed and opposed for what it is — a hostile coercion of the aspirations, sacrifices and struggles of millions of immigrants who demand basic rights and dignity.
Due to a modicum of benefits for some immigrants, we also understand that we will not all agree as an immigrant rights movement on the value of this bill for our communities. Regardless of whether immigration reform passes or not, it is critical that we continue to build the long-term unity and power of immigrant people and workers, and to do it in solidarity with all workers, black communities, and others who have been engaged in the struggles for social and economic justice for decades. The decisions we make as leadership of communities and organizations must answer directly to the very people we struggle for, and build unity for the long-term movements that are genuinely successful in winning change.
Immigrant Communities in Action was founded in 2005 to allow genuine bottom-up, grassroots decision making by low-wage, immigrant people and to organize for real and just immigration reform in New York City and nationally.