Support grows for immigration reform, end to deportations

While the Senate Judiciary Committee carries out a second week of “markup” (voting on amendments) of S 744, the massive immigration reform bill drafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight”, evidence grows that the country is increasingly in favor of solving the immigration problem by means of measures that include a break for undocumented workers and their families.

On Monday, a group of organizations that include the AFL-CIO, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, United We Dream, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and scores of others came out with a statement calling not just for progressive immigration reform, but also the suspension of deportation of people likely to gain the right to stay in the United States if such legislation passes. They further called on the president to immediately issue an order to this effect.

MALDEF’s General Counsel, Thomas A. Saenz, said in a press statement: “It is a simple matter of fairness and justice that we cease removing those immigrants who would be eligible for relief under the proposed bipartisan immigration reform legislation. The American people and bipartisan leaders nationwide support providing legal protections to those who have labored in our industry and raised families in our community; it would be cruel and nonsensical to deny widely supported and contemplated relief to some, simply because of a delayed effective date.”

Although the government has in the past argued that this is not legally possible, the supporters of the move say that it is and point to the fact that the Obama administration itself issued such a suspension of deportation for young people who would be eligible for the DREAM Act, via the so-called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program.

The position taken by the AFL-CIO and the other organizations is roughly congruent with the demand for a “moratorium” on deportation which has arisen from the grassroots of the immigrants’ rights movement since the failure of immigration reform legislation in 2006-2007.

The administration has, in the past, rejected expansion of this idea, stating fear that it might annoy the Republicans and thus undermine the chances of immigration reform legislation’s passage. However, Ana Avendaño, point person on immigration for the AFL-CIO says that immigration reform is on a roll and thus will not be undermined by the demand.

In fact, a new survey shows that in spite of a decades long effort by the right to play African-Americans and mostly Latino immigrants against each other, support for immigration reform and the legalization of the undocumented is solid within the African-American community.

The survey, carried out by Lake Research Partners, shows 66 percent of African American respondents supporting this kind of immigration reform, with only 16 percent against.

At the leadership level, African-American congresspersons and other community leaders have been consistently supportive of progressive immigration reform and the struggle for the rights of immigrant workers. Their conceptualization of the immigrants’ rights movement as part of the overall fight for the rights of minorities appears to have had, in general, a stronger impact than the effort of others to portray immigrants and Latinos as inevitable economic rivals, according to this poll. Other polls have consistently shown that the majority of the U.S. population overall (of all races) supports some sort of progressive immigration reform that allows otherwise law abiding undocumented workers to legalize themselves.

However, there is disquiet in the African-American leadership about one aspect of the present Senate bill, S 744, because, at the insistence of the Republican members of the “Gang of Eight,” it eliminates the annual permanent resident visa lottery, which currently is one of the few ways in which African and West Indian people can hope to get permission to immigrate to the USA.

The lottery gives out only 55,000 permanent resident “green cards” per year, but unless it is restored its elimination will have the effect of reducing opportunities for would-be African and Caribbean immigrants.

There are many resources for learning about the real situation of immigration in the United States, including the online pamphlet “Immigration: Myths and Facts.”

Photo: Paulina Clemente/Flickr


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.