According to Time magazine, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decided not to support the Republican-led Senate “compromise” bill on immigration reform because he felt he was walking into a trap. This recalls Patrick Henry’s famous quote, “I smell a rat,” when the U.S. Constitution was first proposed without a Bill of Rights.
Reid’s refusal to accept Republican maneuvers to add more repressive amendments to the compromise kept the Senate from passing a 500-plus page proposal by Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). Action is now postponed until April 24, after a two-week recess. The delay gives the immigrant rights upsurge time to press for stronger legalization and civil rights protections.
The Hagel-Martinez bill has one program with a path to permanent residency for undocumented people here five years or more, and another with a more conditional permanent residency path for those here two to five years. For the rest there is a possible temporary worker program and the requirement they leave the country with no assurance of being able to return.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney immediately opposed the measure as projecting “an undemocratic, three-tiered society that degrades and marginalizes millions of immigrant families … driving down wages and benefit standards for everyone.” The National Organization for Women called for its defeat because of its heavy burdens to qualify and limits to judicial review and due process, saying the bill would “create a permanent underclass that may never get to participate in the U.S. democratic system.”
The movement for immigrant rights has focused heavily on opposing the blatantly anti-democratic HR 4437, especially its provisions making felons of undocumented workers and those who provide them humanitarian support. Increasingly civil rights/civil liberties activists object to other aspects of HR 4437 that have been incorporated into all the bills being considered in the Senate.
Many point to “poison pill” or “booby trap” provisions that could disqualify immigrants for driving without a license, using an invalid Social Security card or other ID, or overstaying a visa. These dangers are reinforced by denials of appeal and court access in many cases. Provisions for mandatory deportation, unlimited detentions and deputizing police as immigration agents extend and expand dangerous precedents. Organizers for the April 10 National Day of Protest sent out an alert calling such provisions unacceptable.
On top of all this, whether they support guest work programs or not, right-wing Republican leaders are prioritizing draconian border and interior enforcement measures. President Bush, Senate Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) are clearly working to include as many repressive, HR 4437-type provisions as possible in any bill.
On April 10, key Democrats Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) and Reps. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) and Hilda Solis (Calif.) urged returning the Kennedy-McCain bill to congressional debate instead of seeking to amend the Hagel-Martinez compromise.
The Kennedy-McCain bill has the strongest path to citizenship and least onerous enforcement provisions in the Senate. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) says the more liberal bill could pass the House but the Republican leadership would not allow this.
At the grassroots, supporters of stronger legalization measures and opposition to punitive enforcement are calling for continuous mass demonstrations, voter registration, people’s boycotts and work stoppages. On April 15 a mass student protest is being held in Los Angeles. On April 29, a “citizenship training event” is planned in Chicago. On May 1, mass demonstrations are being organized in Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities, with many groups calling for a national boycott of work and school.