Hispanic Caucus stands up to right wing

Less than a year since the Bush administration’s flawed “comprehensive” immigration bill failed in the Senate and with just six months until the November elections, pressure on the House by both pro and anti-immigrant groups is growing.

The Bush administration has dropped its pretense of support for any meaningful path to citizenship and is demanding instead increased enforcement and “guest worker” programs that amount to modern day slavery.

The House Democratic leadership indicated in April that there will be May hearings on enforcement and temporary worker issues but not on any particular bill.

On April 23 leaders of the House Hispanic Caucus criticized this approach of hearings without the issue of legalization with a path to citizenship. Caucus First Vice Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called the House Democratic leadership “spineless” for allowing consideration of a piecemeal rather than a comprehensive agenda.

The caucus, consisting of 20 representatives, says the hearings accommodate the pressure of the right wing anti-immigrant lobby for a “deportation only” policy embodied in the so-called SAVE Act (HR 4088).

That bill would further militarize the border, establish a mandatory on-line system for all U.S workers to determine eligibility for employment and authorize use of Social Security data for deportations.

Though authored by the conservative North Carolina Democrat, Heath Schuler, the bill is backed by the GOP which is trying to force it to the floor with a “discharge petition” that needs 218 House signers. So far 176 Republicans and 10 Democrats have signed the petition. If all Republicans sign only eight additional Democrats would be needed to force a vote.

Supporters of immigrant rights including the National Immigration Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and labor unions like SEIU back the call for a comprehensive approach but say they will use the hearings to voice opposition to and fight for the defeat of the right-wing proposals. There is also a feeling among these groups that the hearings that are planned might not be such a bad idea because there is a need to protect some Democrats in Congress. The concern is for those who might be vulnerable to attacks from Republicans using immigration as a wedge issue.

LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes says that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who opposes the SAVE Act, “is trying to stop Shuler with the hearings.” Since the hearings were announced, there have been no further signers of the discharge petition for the SAVE Act.

Wilkes says that even though LULAC will participate in the hearings, he sees the Hispanic Caucus position as “an important counterforce to the right-wing pressure.” LULAC wants Congress to pass legalization measures with a path to citizenship and is calling for a moratorium on raids.

“It’s good to take time to look seriously at the proposals, their high price tag and implications for all U.S. workers,” says Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration and national campaigns for NCLR.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the SAVE Act, over a 10-year-period, could result in the loss of $40 billion to the government in revenue and taxes now paid by immigrant workers. Local economies all over the country would suffer severe negative consequences from mass deportations many economists, business and elected leaders say.

Immigrant rights groups are contacting their congressperson urging them to be critical of the SAVE Act’s right-wing provisions, said Doug Rivlin of the National Immigration forum.

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), a member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration, says she hopes “the House hearings will underscore that the SAVE Act is based on expanding a flawed employee verification system.”

It has been pointed out that there are more than 18 million errors in the Social Security database due to problems including maiden names, incorrect birth dates and other difficulties. More than two-thirds of the errors affect the Social Security records of citizens who were born in this country.