On Tuesday December 15, Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and Solomon Ortiz, D-Tex., announced a new comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives.

HR 4321, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, or “CIR ASAP” for short, has Congressman Ortiz as its main sponsor, though Gutierrez has done most of the legwork. It has 91 original cosponsors, including members of the Hispanic, Black, Asian-Pacific Caucuses, and representing 26 states plus all the nonvoting representatives of U.S. “territories” and the District of Columbia. To pass, a House bill must get 217 votes.

CIR ASAP differs from comprehensive immigration reform bills introduced in 2003-2004, 2005-2006, and 2007-2008 in that it contains no new guest or temporary worker program. In the former bills, large increases of guest worker visas were authorized as a concession to get the support of business interests, “moderate” Republicans and the Bush White House. But this meant that none of these bills were supported by the AFL-CIO and most of organized labor, with the exception of unions like SEIU, UNITE HERE and the two farmworker unions, UFW and FLOC, who would have benefited from the legalization of the undocumented to an exceptional degree.

In the first half of 2009, AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions worked out an agreement whereby in this year’s bill, the guest worker aspect would be dropped. Instead, there would be a new labor force commission, with union participation, which would monitor labor needs and make recommendations to Congress on the number of new visas to be authorized. This agreement was the centerpiece of a new united front effort for comprehensive immigration reform, called “Reform Immigration for America” (www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org), which includes not only most of organized labor but also the majority of other organizations and coalitions interested in immigration reform. This labor force commission has been incorporated in HR 4321, along with the bulk of the principles agreed on by Reform Immigration for America.

If enacted, the bill would legalize the vast majority of the 12 million or so undocumented immigrants believed to be in this country, excepting only people convicted of serious crimes. Persons caught working under false Social Security numbers could be legalized.

The first step would be a provisional visa, allowing the person to work and travel back and forth, which could be turned into permanent residence (a green card) after six years, and after having fulfilled certain requirements. There would be a $500 fee for legalization, much less than in recent bills. The bill also returns to immigration judges the right to stop deportation proceedings against people with minor U.S. citizen children if the interests of the children would be harmed. This would take care of situations like that of Elvira Arellano and her U.S. born son. Many immigrants’ rights advocates applaud the bill’s elimination of the 287 g program under which local and state police are allowed to do immigration enforcement work, and which has been grossly abused by people like Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to profile and persecute Latino residents of the Phoenix area. The bill reasserts a federal monopoly on immigration law and its enforcement, which would put a stop to the demagogic practice of small town politicians hustling votes by going after the immigrants with special local ordinances.

The bill also greatly increases the number of permanent legal resident visas. There are new border and internal control mechanisms in the bill, including a modified E-verify program, but these do not go beyond what is already being done by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and in many causes soften their impact and create new rights safeguards.

Opposition to the bill arose immediately. On the ultra-right, the usual crowd of anti-immigrant organizations and right-wing Republican politicians such as Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tenn., yowled about “giveaways to lawbreakers” and “treason”. On a somewhat different note, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and “moderate” Republicans such as Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who had supported earlier bills, denounced this one as a “disappointment” and “not comprehensive” because it does not have a guest worker component. Some on the left also denounced the bill, but it has the eager support of the AFL-CIO and most of labor, plus the majority of immigrants’ rights organizations.

Next week, Sen. Charles Shumer, D-N.Y., is going to introduce a Senate bill which is likely to be quite a bit more conservative. Immigrants’ rights organizations figure that they have a “window” of opportunity to get something done February or March of 2010. After that, the dynamics of the 2010 congressional elections will scare many congresspersons away from the issue. So mass lobbying campaigns are already getting under way.



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.