A blow was dealt against a possible bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House of Representatives when two more Republican members, Congressmen John Carter and Sam Johnson, both of Texas, withdrew from the bipartisan “Gang of Seven”, which was drafting a bill, effectively disbanding it. However, immigrant rights activists vow that they will not be deterred. [Today, media reports say Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi may introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill at the beginning of October to coincide with an Oct. 5 National Day of Action.]
The already passed Senate bill trades off a problematic mechanism for legalizing the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants for new repressive enforcement measures and exploitative guest worker programs. Undocumented immigrants would be given an interim status as “Registered Provisional Immigrants” (R.P.I.s) for up to 10 years. Then they could become Permanent Legal Residents and in another three years (13 years in all), they could apply for citizenship. But they would lose their legal resident status and thus risk deportation if they got into trouble with the law, or if their income dropped below the poverty level, or if they were unemployed for any length of time. Running this gauntlet is likely to eliminate thousands, if not millions, of R.P.I.s.
The Senate bill mandates the confiscation of the accumulated Social Security deposits from R.P.I.s. They could live in the country, work and travel, but they could not have access any government benefits, including Obamacare and Medicare. Border security would be greatly increased, with 20,000 new patrol agents, and at the cost of $46 billion to the taxpayer. Internal crackdowns would also be increased, using E-Verify, a system whereby employers check the Social Security numbers of prospective workers with a government database. This would eventually be made mandatory for all employers. There would be new guest worker programs.
There have been strong objections to the Senate bill by, especially, activists and organizations along the U.S.-Mexican border, who say the crackdown will disrupt their communities and lead to an increasingly high death rate for migrants, who will go to greater and greater risks to find a way to cross.
The Obama administration has, under pressure from immigrant rights, labor and Latino organizations, ordered three modifications to the practices by the Department of Homeland Security that have raised the number of deportations to a record number (409,000 in 2012). The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program defers deportation of young undocumented people who were brought to the United States as minors. The “Prosecutorial Discretion” initiative instructs the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus their enforcement efforts on people who have committed crimes or present a danger to the American people. The third initiative, begun in March, changes the procedures of legalization of undocumented immigrants who marry U.S. citizens so that they will no longer be forced to return to their home countries and wait from 3 to 10 years before they can come back to their spouses here.
But most of these executive orders are phrased as suspensions of deportation, and the logical argument behind them, offered both by the administration and by immigrant rights group who want more categories to be covered (such as undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children and of young people covered by DACA) is that it makes no sense for the government to be deporting people who soon will be the subject of a congressionally mandated legalization.
If the effort in Congress fails completely, that rationale disappears.
This is the reason for the hope that the “Gang of Seven” in the House would produce legislation, which at least would provide legalization for the majority of the undocumented. Congressmen Vela, D-Texas, and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., have now introduced new legislation for this purpose. But this also comes up when the Republicans have a majority of 234 to 201 in the House, so those dynamics are not changed.
All through the summer, immigrant rights and labor organizations worked very hard with mobilization, pressure and lobbying efforts directed as House Republicans. Many sources suggest that this was a successful effort, but that the current problem comes from the refusal of the House Republican leadership, especially Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, to allow legislation to proceed.
The Republican leadership says it is going ahead with five initiatives. From a progressive point of view, they are all bad, and none of them provide for legalization of the 11 million undocumented. The Border Security Results Act, HR 1417, would parallel the security overkill in Senate Bill 744. The SAFE Act, HR 2278, would authorize state legislatures to take control of immigration enforcement and would cancel DACA and Prosecutorial Discretion. The Legal Workforce Act, HR 1772, would make use of E-Verify mandatory for all employers. Other bills would expand temporary worker programs without adding workplace protections.
Some immigrants’ rights activists are so frustrated that they are calling for an end to all legislative efforts, and a focus on street action alone. The trouble is that the congressional scene cannot be wished away, and if progressives opt out of the legislative struggle it, Congress will pass extremely repressive legislation anyway.