Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What's going on behind those closed doors.

If Harry Reid has his way, tomorrow the Senate will finally take up the issue of immigration reform. After months of closed door negotiations between the Administration and Senate leaders, it's beginning to look like an actual compromise is close to being reached and may finally come up for debate.

But, exactly what the nature of that compromise entails has been shrouded in some mystery. Earlier this year Bush began shifting his position to the right in order to garner support from some of the Republican immigration hardliners. With last years Republican point man, John McCain avoiding this issue like the plague, fellow Arizonan, Jon Kyl has stepped up to take his place. Kyl, who led last years Republican effort against comprehensive reform, now seems to have had a change of heart once the mid-terms were over and is advocating for a more comprehensive immigration policy.

But with Kyl as lead Republican negotiator, "comprehensive" might not mean what it did last year.

According to details coming from the Wall Street Journal, we can expect a bill that has not only moved the debate substantially further to the right, but is also much more restrictive, business friendly and worker exploitive.

The core bill, like the immigration-overhaul effort that failed in the last Congress, promises millions of undocumented workers now in the U.S. a path to citizenship. Under pressure from Democrats, heavy fines of $10,000 that would have been imposed on immigrants seeking to legalize their status have been cut in half. It would take from eight to 13 years to qualify for permanent residency under the bill, and conservatives have won restrictions to try to stem the tide of immigrants who may follow this mass legalization.

New border-security measures would be given top priority in the first 18 months after enactment. Current immigration rules that favor families would be replaced by a merit system making it harder for new citizens to bring in siblings and adult children. Even parents would find it harder; the number would be capped at 40,000 a year, less than half the number that typically come in annually.

In the same spirit, the White House has walked a fine line in negotiating a new guest-worker program whose Republican motto is "temporary means temporary." The draft plan would create a new temporary "Y" visa for as many as 400,000 people a year, who could come to work in the U.S. for two to three years but then must go home. There would be exceptions in special circumstances for a narrow segment of workers, about 10,000 a year.

In the talks, conservatives such as Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl want to bar most guest workers from reapplying for another Y visa after their time here. Critics say this would create a permanent class of persons coming and going with no chance of ever establishing residency. Democrats argue that U.S. interests are better served if a guest worker can reapply -- after going home -- and be given a chance to earn points toward getting permanent residence.

…snip…

The temporary-worker issue is among the last major stumbling blocks to be considered at a senators' meeting today. Giving ground could help win a deal with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, the lead Democratic negotiator. The administration last night said it was putting no pressure on Sen. Kyl on this issue.

The elaborate point system rewarding specialty or high-demand occupations is still evolving. Much depends on how many green cards the government is prepared to issue annually.

Wall Street Journal


It's too early to tell exactly where the negotiations will lead ….but from what's been coming out so far, it doesn't bode well meaningful reform.

Although we had all hoped that this years round of reform negotiations would finally produce the kind of practical, fair and humane legislation needed, clearly at this point it appears that no bill at all would be better than a bill that would allow for increased exploitation and division of families.

We can only hope that the Democratic leadership comes to it's senses and realizes that making compromises with this President on matters of conscience and public policy only leads to failure. Despite all the bluster and rhetoric of the far-right, the American people want an immigration policy that works ... not one crafted for political expedience.

11 comments:

Monty said...

Duke, I have to disagree, any form of comprehensive reform is better than the status quo. Even if the comprehensive reform is semi-comprehensive.....if there can be no agreement on the outline of a guest worker program then delay this aspect of immigration reform but in no way can the status of our existing illegal population be delayed.

And don’t be fooled, the sticking point of any comprehensive immigration reform plan is not a guest worker plan, nor better border security, nor increased interior enforcement. These issues might be used as an escape route to bypass immigration reform but, in reality, these issues can easily be worked out. Both Democrats & Republicans want better border security & workplace enforcement and even though the issue of a guest worker program might be slightly more contentious both sides still seem determined to devise a guest worker program that will reflect the economic needs of the country. That leaves the thorny issue of the treatment of the existing 12 million undocumented workers already living in the U.S. Unfortunately there is no such consensus regarding this issue. On the one hand are those who recognize the human factor involved in illegal immigration. This group endorses a path of legalization to many of the 12 million undocumented workers that pay fines and meet a long list of criteria. On the other hand are those who consider all undocumented workers as lawbreakers & even criminals. This group is pushing an enforcement only agenda & vehemently opposes any legalization program. Not surprisingly, they are not very vocal in the specifics in dealing with the 12 million already living in the U.S. but their intentions are clear. According to CBS Lou Dobbs, who was recently featured on 60 minutes, in response to being asked if the government could deport all illegal immigrants answers, "I've never called for their deportation, But at the same time, when this president and open-borders, illegal-alien-amnesty advocates say, 'You can't deport them,' my answer is, 'You want to bet?' because this is the United States. I think this country can do anything it sets its mind to,"

Although the rest of these enforcement only advocates might not publicly declare their intentions like Dobbs, it is obvious that they also favor mass deportation. A popular alternative has also emerged among the far right restrictionist wing of the Republican Party – simply reject any comprehensive reform and keep the status quo! In this way they hope that, with increased emphasis on enforcement and new harsh restrictionist local ordinances, life will become unbearable for our existing undocumented immigrants and they will leave on their own accord. Of course those cruel ICE raids will continue and simply serve as additional fuel for that welcomed ‘voluntary’ migration back to their country of birth. What astounds me is the muted outcry to such cruel agendas, after all, I don’t recall the commandment, Love thy Neighbor as Yourself Unless Your Neighbor is an Illegal Immigrant. Equally worrying is the lack of widespread opposition to the recent increased ICE raids over the last year. In fact since 9/11 we have had a humanitarian crisis that has been largely swept under the rug. This crisis is blatantly obvious to those who bother to notice but since those affected live in the shadows of society, the problem, with the help of the media & those right wing demagogues, has simply been ignored or distorted. Yet families continue to be torn apart by Ice raids and deportations. People who have lived & worked here for years, established roots, are suddenly sent back to their country of birth, often a country with which they are no longer familiar.

The problem is that when it comes to immigration reform the voices that are heard are a loud minority who has made illegal immigration their core voting issue. Poll after poll actually shows that most Americans actually support some form of legalization for the existing illegal immigrant population but most of these people are more consumed with other issues like the economy or that tiny problem in Iraq. In the meantime those enforcement only supporters have hijacked the debate and have used a complicit mainstream media to promote their dishonest agenda. It is worth noting that this same group also comprises a sizeable chunk of the Republican base so, naturally, the politicians vying for their votes tend to pander to the cruel enforcement only intentions of this group. Not surprisingly many prominent Republican candidates like McCain, Giuliani and Brownback have moved to the right on the issue. How can we possibly have comprehensive immigration reform when these powerful politicians ignore the will of the majority and adjust their viewpoint to appease this restrictionist minority? And since these candidates obviously feel that this minority will play a major role in selecting a Republican presidential candidate it is unlikely that any of the most prominent Republican candidates will lead, as many did last year, a push for comprehensive reform.

Before comprehensive immigration reform can even be considered the humanitarian impact of illegal immigration needs to be highlighted. Thereafter, in order to work out how to treat our existing illegal immigrants, we need to comprehend the actual severity of the initial law-breaking act of illegal entry into the U.S. The overwhelming majority of undocumented workers crossed the border with the sole intention of providing for their families and seeking a better life for their children. Any person who claims they would not break such a law to provide for their children is totally blinded by privilege or not telling the truth. Yet according to the enforcement only lobby it seems like every undocumented worker has committed aggravated burglary or murder and is deserving of a life sentence. For someone who has been here for many years & established roots, deportation or loss of employment as a result of total enforcement is akin to a life sentence. So to get anywhere with comprehensive immigration reform we must recognize the true nature of this law breaking act and then work out an appropriate punishment.

True justice takes into account all circumstances and factors involved in any crime or law breaking act….our justice system has always worked in this manner. After Katrina devastated New Orleans I recall reading that certain instances of looting would not be prosecuted since people had taken flashlights or food that could be considered necessity items. I’m sure Mr. Dobbs and all those calling for only the application of the written would have, instead, insisted on prosecuting regardless of any extenuating circumstances.....you steal a bottle of water and you go to jail - NO EXCUSES! In the case of illegal immigration we are similarly obligated to take into account all extenuating circumstances most important of which are the humanitarian factors and motives involved. We must also recognize that for many years our government had been complicit in illegal immigration. Through a lack of enforcement the Federal government turned a blind eye so that business, small and large, had access to an endless supply of cheap labor. We left the door open, we shouted over the fence for those hardworking people and they came in numbers. So we let them work, let them bring over their families and we turned the other way when it came to enforcement. Now it is our responsibility to work out an appropriate solution & punishment for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants living in the U.S. And considering all the circumstances any reasonable person would agree that deportation for people who have lived here for years is NOT a an appropriate or fair punishment. So we must devise a solution/punishment that incorporates our economic and social concerns but also treats people humanely. Excluding illegal immigrants from social benefit programs for long periods, increased fines, mandatory English proficiency, are only a few of the possible requirements for a legalization program. Some might find it surprising the extent to which our undocumented workers are willing to go to emerge from the shadows. And it is on this point that pro immigrant advocates might actually jeopardize comprehensive reform by demanding measures which are too liberal. Cutting down on EXTENDED family immigration should not be a major point of contention(The minimum acceptable family immigration policy should include parents and unmarried children of all ages). Another point of contention might be the willingness of those on the left in dealing with our undocumented workers in a tiered manner. This should also not be a cog in the wheel of comprehensive reform. It is obvious that a person who has lived here for 10+ years has established deeper roots than someone who has resided here for 3 years and that person in turn has settled in the U.S. to a greater extent than someone who has only been here for a year. So from a humanitarian standpoint it should be possible to apply different standards for these groups...for example those who have been here for 10+ years would not need to leave the country to gain legal status and their path to citizenship might be faster. While those who have been here for 5-10 years would need to leave the country first(Of course we must guarrantee immediate legal reentry). And those who have been here for less than 5 years would need to wait much longer for a chance at citizenship...perhaps those who have just recently arrived can reenter the country under a guest worker type program which would make eventual citizenship possible but very difficult - after all no reasonable person has said that U.S. citizenship should be given away! I have no doubt that the vast majority of illegal immigrants would gladly accept provisions of this nature to gain legal status and emerge from the shadows. And those who claim to speak on behalf of our illegal immigrant population must realise this!

But even though these undocumented workers will accept almost any restrictions and fines to earn a path to legalization the opposite applies to the enforcement only mob. To them any amount of conditions and fines still equates to amnesty. This is why it needs to be explained at every opportunity that we are dealing with human beings and not cattle and we must consider all the extenuating circumstances surrounding illegal immigration. In this way the dishonest enforcement only law breaking argument, ‘these people broke our law so must be deported’, is exposed. And only when dishonest arguments are buried can comprehensive immigration reform succeed. And such comprehensive reform will actually address the many concerns of the people rallying against it. Comprehensive reform actually addresses the very concerns of which these public figures complain. Strict screening, harsh workplace enforcement and better border security will make sure criminals are dealt with appropriately. At the same time comprehensive reform will address our basic humanitarian obligations, people who have been here for many years will be treated fairly.

Duke1676 said...

Monty,

While I agree with your general analysis, I think that to compromise too much in order to get something passed now may in the long run turn out to be a great mistake.

We of course need to see the complete details of the actual legislation before judgment can be passed …but from what's come out so far about this bill it looks to contain far too many compromises.

It's the future implications of any legislation that need to be looked at. The change to a skill-based immigration preference coupled with a truly "temporary" worker program that doesn't afford any path to permanence would result in a rotating under-class of permanent Braceros who would never have the opportunity to reap the true benefits of their labor.

To embrace this kind of legislation would be tantamount to selling short all future immigration for the sake of the 12 mil already here.

Politically, the position of the far-right is unsustainable. Particularly in the case of the 12mil. You're right to point out that despite all the harsh rhetoric coming from Tancredo or Dobbs, the American people overwhelmingly support legalization. …Additionally, Bush MUST enact this legislation NOW. It's his last chance to get anything done. Given those two political realities there is no reason to accept such a harsh compromise.

While the right-wing currently uses "amnesty" as their weapon of choice to battle any meaningful reform, it must be remembered that the glue that holds the Republican "moderates" together is in fact guestworkers. The business interests that control the purse strings of the party and make up its traditional backbone demand them. … and Bush MUST deliver. This is why we're seeing this lopsided 'temporary" program.

The Democrats need not accept this. For them, time is their ally, unlike for the Republicans. If no legislation is enacted the Republican's are the big losers. The right will continue to push for restrictions that are generally unpopular with the electorate and business will be faced with the continued backlash. And they still lose big come 2008 due to Bush, Iraq, economic concerns etc. The clock is running out for them and for the Democrats to negotiate from a perceived position of weakness is ludicrous.

Like I said we still need to see the legislation…look at the number of green cards that will be issued, and numerous other factors to see exactly how this will play out …but right now there appears to be no reason to accept something that has no workable plan for future immigration in order to take the "amnesty" issue off the table.

The Democrats politically have the upper hand right now...they just need to realize that fact and act accordingly.

Monty said...

Duke,

You are absolutely correct in saying that too much compromise would be a great mistake. However the problem is that many pro immigrant advocates have already taken the stance that you have outlined.... realizing that they have the upper hand they are refusing to negotiate even on relatively small concessions. And in my mind this is playing politics with the lives of millions of people, which is reprehensible.

Small concessions are the key to passing comprehensive immigration reform. While I agree that we should never embrace a truly temporary worker program I feel that a guest worker program can promote a temporary worker agenda but also provide a long route to permanent residency/eventual citizenship for those who choose that route. A slight shift, not a change, to more of a skill based immigration system should also not be a deal breaker. It would be a shame if something like the future admission of immigrant extended family members proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

I also vehemently disagree with your analysis that the position of the far right is not sustainable. They definitely have a solid support base, which is evidenced by the passing of many harsh local ordinances in the last year. If comprehensive immigration reform fails I have no doubt that we will see the continuing growth of such cruel enforcement making life virtually unbearable for our undocumented population. And with elections coming up and Iraq at the forefront of most peoples’ concerns, it might be years until we have another shot at comprehensive immigration reform.

Duke1676 said...

Like I said - we will need to see the legislation.

If in fact these are "slight changes" as you catagorize them, there will be support for the bill. But if in fact a clear path to status for future immigration is not included in the legislation it will fail.

We need to see the greeen card numbers to really know what's going on.

As to your assesment of the power of the far right, you must remember that for every small town that passes an anti-immigrant ordinance, a large city is passing sanctuary legislation. That coupled with the recent move for faith based sanctuary by both the Catholic Church and Evangelical groups has the possiblity of adding a new moral authority against the kind of legislation passed in Farmers Branch.

There is definitely division on this issue, but I think the right-wing just does a much better job of moving their agenda in the media....where is the liberal Lou Dobbs?

Monty said...

Agreed - there must be an eventual path to citizenship for all immigrants who choose that route.

Your statement about the ratio of small town anti immigrant ordinances to big city sanctuary movements is not accurate. There is no doubt that the number of local governments that impose harsh anti immigrant measures vastly outnumbers those few big cities that have embraced a sanctuary type policy. In any event undocumented immigrants should not be forced to move from where they have been living for years, give up their jobs, and seek a safer 'sanctuary' city. This logic sounds ridiculous to me & as far as I am concerned this is not an option from both a humanitarian as well as a logistical perspective. Since I agree with so much of your analysis it is a little disappointing that you seem to dismiss or lessen the humanitarian crisis that faces our undocumented workers.

There is no liberal Lou Dobbs because, as I have written in my first response, the majority of U.S. citizens, unfortunately, do not consider immigration as their key issue - remember our little Iraq problem. This is why it is so important to recognize the humanitarian impact of illegal immigration. I am a believer that a reasonable person who is made aware of this humanitarian crisis will feel obligated to demand fair comprehensive reform.
Unfortunately this humanitarian impact has not been adequately highlighted and, even though polls show the majority of Americans support comprehensive reform, it is clear that the majority of Americans have not been that vocal about the issue.

On the other hand that restrictionist wing of the Republican party has been incredibly vocal and have made immigration their key issue. And it is this group that comprises the audience of Dobbs, O' Reilly, Limbaugh & the rest of those demagogues. After all, we all know that a devoted audience means more advertising dollars.

Duke1676 said...

Sorry, I think you misunderstood my point about the sanctuary movement, or I wasn't clear enough in expressing it.

I was in no way saying that the undocumented could just move to sanctuary cities when the small towns pass anti-immigrant legislation.

I bring it up because I believe that the movement not only demonstrates that the majority of Americans oppose restrictive legislation but that the recent call for more sanctuary shows a shifting in the debate. I believe there has been a realization that the debate has been monopolized and pushed forward by the very same vocal minority you referred to, and people believe something must be done to combat them....it's a movement in solidarity.

I simply see the sanctuary movement a sign of hope...not a literal alternative to places like Farmer's Branch or Hazleton

Monty said...

Duke, I think you are misunderstanding my point about the immediate urgency of comprehensive immigration reform.

If immigration reform is bypassed it might be years until another opportunity presents itself for reasons I mentioned previously, including the upcoming elections & Iraq. And while we are waiting local governments will continue to pass cruel anti-immigrant ordinances despite the growing pro immigrant movement you predict. Btw I don't foresee the same growth of this pro immigrant advocacy....Most Americans simply don't see immigration as a key issue. On the other hand that restrictionist Republican base will stay committed & keep up the push for harsher enforcement. And since both Democrats and Republicans favor better interior enforcement, it will be increasingly difficult to stop the exponential growth of such enforcement measures.

You might not be saying it but I am definately saying that if immigration reform is not passed now then undocumented immigrants living in many towns will, in fact, be forced to flee growing anti-immigrant legislation as was the case of many long time Farmer's Branch & Hazelton residents. And this inconvenience is nothing compared to the ruined lives which result from deportations...I just can't imagine living and working somewhere for 10 years and all of a sudden being sent back to one's country of birth....I find it disgusting that some people find this acceptable. I cannot teach compassion but can point people in that direction...however, it is ultimately up to each individual to take the time to recognize when compassion is needed and embrace it. The status quo is absolutely not acceptable and is nothing more than an endorsement of this existing humanitarian crisis.

Duke1676 said...

I think we're talking past each other to some extent.

Reform is urgent, and must be passed for all the reasons you mention.

My point is that there is no political reason to pass it at any cost ... particularly when that cost is to guarantee that five or ten years down the road we will be in the exact same position we are now because we have made no provisions for future immigration. We need to see the green card numbers, we need to make sure that those who come here to work and want to stay - can. If not we'll be doing this again in a matter of time.

It's about the politics of the issue. Politically we don't have to accept legislation that will surly fail over time.

I don't think the Republicans are willing to bypass reform. It hurts them just too much as an issue. That's why they've been hunkered down for a month trying to put something together ... it's not out of the goodness of their hearts. Kyl and Cornyn, who are leading the effort, vehemently opposed reform last year. But they know how toxic this issue is for their party and want it to disappear.

Bush absolutely MUST pass reform ... it's all he's got ...The Republicans absolutely MUST pass reform before it splits their party in two ....this is all I'm saying.

This gives us the upper hand in negotiations.

There is absolutely no reason for us to accept their opening terms ...they need to make more compromises.

That's my point

I simply want the Democratic leadership act like leaders and assure that it happens .... and it's up to us to make sure they do their jobs.

Monty said...

Sure, politically democrats might not need to accept any deal but this problem should definately not be viewed from a political standpoint.

From what I have read a fair bipartisan agreement might be imminent. A guest worker program is fine as long as that worker has some option of progressing to permanent status and eventual citizenship if that person chooses this route. But to have a program which encourages temporary work should not be an issue.

Another issue which worries me but, in no means, is a dealbreaker is the touchback provision. I really cannot understand the point of all undocumented workers returning to their country of birth first, before re-entering the U.S. legally. Perhaps enforce this rule in a tiered manner those who have been here for 5+ years could legalize without leaving the U.S. But as long as all the undocumented are guarranteed immediate re-entry this provision should not kill a comprehensive reform deal.

So if those reasonable democratic leaders can ignore those on the far left who are playing politics, then it seems likely we will end up with a fair effective and sustainable immigration policy. Of course those reasonable Republican leaders will need to neutralize that far right restrictionist wing of their party.

Yave said...

I'm with Monty on this one, although just barely. I agree that it is a complex issue. I think there's a better chance of a bipartisan bill with a Republican president and Democratic congress than with Democrats in charge of both branches, which is the likely outcome next year. No bill is likely to be passed next year because of the election. That means nearly 2 more years of stepped-up enforcement and worsening state and local laws if no bill gets through this year. And even in 2009, I doubt the Democrats will stick their necks out too far for an immigrant-friendly bill. They'd have to really clean up in order to have the kinds of majorities to pass something without Republican support, which would make many Dems in vulnerable districts even more nervous.

On the other side of the column, there is the unpleasant fact that Bush has managed to put the kiss of death to just about everything he has touched. His support for this bill makes me wonder how he can screw it up in unforeseeable ways. And obviously, a bad bill like IIRIRA would be worse than no bill at all. No need to rush through a piece of crap.

But on balance, I don't think we are in a strong enough position to have the luxury of waiting for a better bill.

On the touchback provision, I don't see how that will work at all--immigrants simply don't trust the government to let them back in.

Duke1676 said...

It's interesting that you bring up the IIRIRA ...because that's what many of the last few days compromises look like. That's why I'm very anxious to see the green card numbers and breakdown.

If there is not a substantial adjustment to green cards this bill will definitely have the same outcome as the IIRIRA.

Without increased access to legal immigration- particularly in the low and unskilled work categories - and the addition of 400,000 temporary guest workers without a path to legal residency ....how long will it take before we've got 12 mil new undocumented immigrants living in the shadows to take the place of those who were just provided a path to legalization?