"Reforma si, redadas no" ("reform yes, raids no"), and "for a just and human immigration reform" were some of the slogans chanted as thousands of immigrants' rights activists poured onto the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, October 13, as part of the kickoff of a new campaign for what they call a "Just and Humane" immigration reform.
The activity was organized by the labor-backed Reform Immigration for America Coalition as well as a wide variety of church and community groups, and capped a day of Capitol Hill lobbying for the passage of a new immigration reform bill before March of 2010. Organizers explain that after that date, efforts to pass immigration reform will collide with the dynamics of the 2010 midterm congressional elections, and that the Republican right will be sure to use the electoral context as a pretext for both blocking immigration reform and attacking Democrats as "soft on illegals".
The rally included a mass prayer service, and addresses by local and national immigrants' rights leaders. This culminated a months long campaign through churches around the United States in which families of undocumented immigrants and people facing deportation stood up and explained the hardship that the current system of immigration laws imposes, not only on immigrants, but on their wives, husbands, children, neighbors and co workers. Many members of Congress attended these church based rallies, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who was moved to tears when she participated in one in her home district in California.
The presentation that all had been waiting for was that of U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), who has been the point man within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on immigration issues. Gutierrez outlined what he calls "core principles for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill". The full set of principles can be read on Mr. Gutierrez' official House of Representatives website at www.thomas.loc.gov.
Gutierrez told the press that he did not like the idea of imposing harsh penalties on undocumented immigrants who are trying to legalize themselves. For instance, undocumented high school students who want to go be able to college via the proposed "DREAM Act" "should not have to pay anything".
Indeed, the Gutierrez proposal, which will be introduced as a bill in the House of Representatives in the next couple of weeks, is far more favorable to immigrants that another bill being proposed by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), in terms of penalties and general tone.
The key principles of Gutierrez's proposal are:
A pathway to legalization and citizenship for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants, who must go through background checks, learn English and pay back taxes;
Border enforcement that is "professional and effective', respecting "our nation's values" and working in cooperation with border communities;
"Smart and humane interior enforcement" that includes "fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of detainees and policies that respect the tenets of community policing". The latter is a dig at the 287 (g) program that deputizes local police as immigration agents and has led to a massive increase in profiling;
Protecting workers: "...we must expand the labor rights of workers and punish dishonest employers who continue to exploit immigrants...";
A vastly improved verification system (not the current, unreliable "E-Verify");
Reform "must support strong, united families and treat all immigrant families fairly and equally". It must not separate families for years, as is currently the case;
Future flow of workers: Rather than include a guest worker program, as did major immigration reform proposals of the last few years, the Gutierrez plan would create commission to "align visa numbers with actual labor markets demands and needs, not political winds". Gutierrez thus expresses support for a plan developed between the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions. Gutierrez's plan also differs from that of Senator Schumer, who would cut off visas for low skilled, low-income people and bring in more highly skilled, highly educated people. The problem with Schumer's approach is that people who at present come into the U.S. without papers are poor people who have been displaced by corporate globalization, and to whom the U.S. government will not, at present, give visas;
AgJobs and the DREAM Act. The Gutierrez plan would incorporate AgJobs, a special arrangement for migratory agricultural workers, that is supported by agricultural workers' unions, and the DREAM Act, which would provide a means for undocumented high school students wishing to go to college to both legalize themselves and access financial aid.