|Written by La Voz de los Trabajadores/Workers’ Voice|
|Wednesday, 22 May 2013 21:01|
Immigration Reform is probably one of the biggest issues to be discussed and decided upon this year in the U.S. The Obama administration claims their bill will give a “path to citizenship” to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Republicans are still divided, but tend to focus on “border enforcement” and oppose the so-called “amnesty for illegal immigrants”.
As a strategy to break the traditional Democrat & Republican controversies, Obama is pushing for a large pro-immigration bill coalition. The reform started with the “Gang of 8” bill, a Senate group formed by 4 democrats and 4 republicans, including John Mccain and Tea Party member Marco Rubio. And the coalition is intended to go way beyond, to business representatives, Union leaders, NGO´s and movements led by the DP.
In this scenario, a lot of hope and expectations are crossing most immigrants´ minds, materialized in only one thought: I am going to be an American citizen! That is why a lot of immigrants at the moment tend to support Obama´s bill, and are even willing to fight for it.
But does Obama´s Immigration reform really meet immigrants´demands? What are the problems included as part of the bill? What are the interests behind it? And what should the immigrant movement’s (and all the left-wing sectors) position be on it? The four main points of Obama´s Reform: (1) Border Enforcement, (2) New Visa System, (3) Employment and Visa Verification, (4) “Path to Citizenship”
(1) BORDER ENFORCEMENT
Border enforcement is the topmost priority of the bipartisan reform proposal. It includes a $45 billion budget to build fences, hire police troops, purchase surveillance equipment, & increase the use of drones and weapons in the southern border. The enforcement plan should be ready 180 days after the bill is passed.
Obama has already deported hundreds of thousands of immigrants during his first term, but through this reform, he’s de facto committing to increase this number in agreement with the Republicans. In his own words: “We strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000¹. ” Obama, January 29, 2013.
Besides irrationally spending money that is being cut from social areas, Obama´s reform makes border enforcement a condition to any path of citizenship: “ (immigrants) would have to wait a decade or more for full citizenship which would entitle them to federal benefits, while the government works on further securing U.S. borders and enforcing the new immigration law².”
(2) NEW VISA SYSTEM
The new Visa system creates new visas for low skilled workers, such as agricultural, construction, long-term care, hospitality and other areas. The companies in these sectors will have the number of visas increased for the workers they need, including temporary jobs (guest workers programs). It also increases the number of visas for high skilled workers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to fill positions in technology companies.
This item of the reform is intended to satisfy business lobbies and help the government boost the U.S. economy. The terms of this agreement were negotiated by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, sealing a shameful labor-business pact.
According to the agreement, U.S. citizens should have the first opportunity for all U.S. jobs; new visas should be created to allow guest workers to switch jobs and some to become permanent workers; the future immigration of low-skilled workers should be regulated by a new federal bureau based on “market needs.”
The AFL-CIO is performing a major betrayal against workers by endorsing a temporary job program, instead of jobs with full rights to both American and immigrant workers; supporting a “path to citizenship” instead of “general amnesty”, which was AFL-CIO´s former position; and supporting all the enforcement measures in the bill, in exchange for some guarantees of job positions and wages.
(3) EMPLOYMENT AND VISA VERIFICATION
Within five years, all employers must implement E-Verify, a program whose purpose is to electronically verify their workers’ legal status. Non-citizens will be required to show a photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.
Besides that, the government will create a system to control visa expiration dates, monitoring entries and exits of the country to check if anybody overstayed their visas.
These are merely more enforcement measures, designed to repress and criminalize immigrants, with many being unable to work and probably having their passports revoked.
(4) “PATH TO CITIZENSHIP”
According to the government´s bill, immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed their visas could obtain “provisional immigrant status” as long as: (1) The Homeland Security Department has developed border security and fencing plans; (2) They arrived in the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011, and stayed in the country since then; (3) They have not committed any crimes; (4) They pay a $500 fine. After 10 years, they can seek a green card if they are up-to-date on taxes and pay a $1,000 fine, have stayed in the U.S. all the time, meet work requirements, and learn English. Also, the border triggers must have been met, and all people waiting to immigrate through the legal system must have been dealt with first. Anyway, they won’t be eligible for federal benefits, such as welfare and social security until they get a green card. Finally, after 13 years they might be eligible for citizenship(³).
The only ones who could earn citizenship in 5 years would be young immigrants (DREAMers), if they serve the military or attend college, and agricultural workers, because of their “importance to the economy”, since 20% of agricultural workers are immigrants who earn much less than American workers…
The interests behind Obama´s Bill
It´s not the concern about the lives and families of the 11 million undocumented immigrants that drives Obama and his allies to push for an immigration reform, but deep political and economic interests.
It´s very important for Democrats to secure the 71% Latin@ vote that Obama got in the 2012 election. And it´s critical for Republicans to try not to lose its 29%, and if possible gain a little more, since Latin@s are already 16% of the population and 10% of the voters.
It is also important for the government to use this reform bill to help overcome the economic crisis and build on a sustained recovery of the U.S economy. According to government studies, the reform could increase GDP in 1.3% until 2016; make more immigrants pay taxes and open their own businesses & provide cheaper labor for U.S companies, especially in agriculture, construction and high-tech industry. (4)
Finally, Immigration reform is being used as a powerful weapon for the cooptation of social movements, such as unions, starting with the AFL-CIO, who are supporting an anti-labor reform; the immigrant movement, that is presenting the reform as if it were the best path to citizenship possible; & the NGOs and youth movements, that are falling for the tale of passing a progressive and comprehensive reform against Republicans.
General Amnesty for all immigrants now!
Obama´s Immigration Reform is not what the immigrant movement has been fighting for. In 2006 and 2007 immigrants led the 500,000 people demonstrations demanding “general amnesty for all immigrants” and “no more waiting in line”! It´s time to bring those demands back and win them through struggle.
We need to stand against the criminalization measures, such as border enforcement and E-verify, because they´re ways of continuing deportations, layoffs and dividing workers.
We need to build independent unions and movements, that will fight for our rights instead of supporting the government.
Those are the most important tasks for all those who claim to defend the working class and immigrants’ rights.