On Tuesday Oct 13th, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez(Il-D), will be joined in Washington by 2,500 representatives of labor, immigrant advocacy and civil rights groups, and faith-based communities from across the country to unveil what is being touted as a list fundamental principles behind a new progressive, comprehensive immigration bill to be introduced before the end of the month.
"I am overwhelmed by the support of immigrant, faith-based and community-based organizations in urging me to introduce comprehensive immigration legislation. I look forward to joining them on Tuesday so that I can share with them more specifically the key principles that will form the basis of such a bill," said Rep. Gutierrez.
"We simply cannot wait any longer for a bill that keeps our families together, protects our workers and allows a pathway to legalization for those who have earned it," continued Rep. Gutierrez. "Saying immigration is a priority for this Administration or this Congress is not the same as seeing tangible action, and the longer we wait, the more every single piece of legislation we debate will be obstructed by our failure to pass comprehensive reform."
"We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you; but if you are here to work hard and to make a better life for your family, you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship. We need a law that says it is un-American for a mother to be torn from her child, and it is unacceptable to undermine our workforce by driving the most vulnerable among us further into the shadows."
"I believe the support base for this kind of compassionate and comprehensive legislation is strong and far reaching, and I believe the votes are there to pass it. I have always said that immigration reform will not be easy; but it is time we had a workable plan working its way through Congress that recognizes the vast contributions of immigrants to this country and that honors the American Dream."
We have yet to see Rep Gutierrez's recommendations, but after years of controversy and partisan fighting, we are still no closer to any meaningful new national immigration policy than we were over eight years ago when President Bush first claimed he would make it a top priority upon taking office. Much of the blame for this situation clearly rests on the shoulders of the anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party, who chose political expediency and a divisive brand of slash and burn political theater over the responsible execution of their duties.
But, there have also been divisions within the Democratic Party that have helped stall the effort. While generally stating support for some sort of "comprehensive reform," there has been little consensus on exactly what that reform should entail.
We’ve seen numerous compromise bills, intended to find a “sweet spot” that would appease all parties, go down in flames after concessions were made to restrictionists to accept their far-right policies as a prerequisite to even bringing the issue to the table, only later to find that no matter how many concessions were made, or how restrictive or punitive the legislation ...they were never satisfied.
In the absence of meaningful reform, undocumented immigrants still daily traverse the borders risking their lives, and sometimes losing them, in order to find work and security in the United States.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have been incarcerated in order to line the pockets of a growing private prison system rife with abuse and neglect, or to appease the shrill voices of those who look to draconian enforcement as the sole means of regulating the flow of migration.
Billions of dollars more have been squandered in a time of economic instability on failed attempts to seal the borders with walls and technology purchased from the same companies that willingly emptied our national coffers for the last eight years in the “war on terror” both here and abroad. … all because of our reliance on the failed “enforcement only” policies of the past.
Additionally, the divisive and racially charged rhetoric surrounding the debate has fostered a growing culture of hate that has led to increased violence aimed at immigrant and ethnic communities.
Given this situation, the need to address immigration reform is pressing.
But in order for any reform legislation to be effective, and more importantly, be a permanent solution that will stand the test of time, we must end the failed policies of the past that rely solely on enforcement and deterrence. Instead we should work towards a flexible immigration system that can be responsive to all the push and pull factors that drive migration globally.
A properly formulated and functioning immigration system should not only address the labor and economic needs of the US, but also the forces in sender nations that drive migration globally, whether they be economic, political, social, or humanitarian in nature. It should protect all workers, both native-born and immigrant from exploitation, and end policies that foster an underground economy that makes "criminals" out of millions of hard working people both native and foreign born.
Unlike the past, we should judge future legislation and policy not by how successful it will be at apprehending, deporting, or incarcerating migrants ... but rather on how little apprehension, deportation and incarceration would be necessary.
With that said, what follows are twenty-five principles that should be included in any truly progressive immigration reform legislation …
25 KEY PRINCIPLES TO MEANINGFUL REFORM
- End policies that rely only on enforcement and deterrence as the sole means of regulating migration.
- Address the root causes of immigration, and change US policy so that it doesn't foster and produce conditions that force hundreds of thousands of people each year to leave their countries of origin in order to simply survive.
- Tie all current and future trade, military, and foreign aid agreements to not only worker protections both here and abroad, but also to their ability to foster economic progress and social justice for the working class and poor in sender nations.
- Formulate a reasonable, humane, fair and practical method for determining the levels of immigration going forward. Establish an independent commission free from the pressures of political expediency and business interests to review all the pertinent data and set admission numbers based on labor, economic, social, and humanitarian needs.
- Provide a path to legalization for all current undocumented immigrants living and working in the US, free of restrictions based on country of origin, economic status, education, length of residency, or any other “merit based” criteria.
- Secure the borders by first ensuring that the vast majority of new immigrants have the ability and opportunity to legally enter the country through legal ports of entry by increasing the availability and equitable distribution of green cards. This would curtail the flow of migration through illegal channels. Only after that, should enforcement begin to ensure compliance, or any work to physically secure the border take place.
- Increase the focus on enforcement of all labor and employment laws. Increase penalties on employers who engage in unfair or illegal labor practices. Increase funding for government oversight and inspection.
- Opposition to a "temporary guest worker" program as the primary vehicle for employment based legal entry on the grounds that it provides no benefit to the American people or the immigrants themselves. It only provides big business with a disposable work force, and prevents immigrants from becoming a viable force in the workplace or full fledged members of society.
- Foster an immigration policy that strengthens the middle and working class through encouraging unionization, increased naturalization, and immigrant participation in the electoral process.
- Include the language of the DREAM Act that would allow children and young adults brought here as children, and raised in the US, a conditional path to citizenship in exchange for a mandatory two years in higher education or community service. Undocumented young people must also demonstrate good moral character to be eligible for and stay in conditional residency. At the end of the long process, the young person can have the chance to become an American citizen or legal residency by completing their educations and contributing to society.
- Included the language of the Uniting American Families Act that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow permanent partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including same-sex partners, to obtain permanent residency.
- Include the language of the AgJobs bill that seeks to relieve chronic farm labor shortages by supplying undocumented migrant agricultural workers a legal opportunity to enter the county and a path to legal status and eventual citizenship. It also bolsters labor rights and protects workers from exploitation.
- Repeal the sections of the 1996 law that redefined vast numbers of crimes as deportable offense when committed by immigrants. Imposing harsh penalties--often permanent exile--on immigrants for minor criminal convictions like shoplifting or possession of marijuana.
- End permanent detention of all migrants for immigration violations not related to violent crimes.
- Simplify the immigration system by eliminating and condensing the hundreds of various visa classes into a smaller, more manageable, classification system that allows for not only easier navigation of the system, but better analysis of current immigration needs.
- End policies and programs that rely upon state and local law enforcement agencies to usurp the role of the federal government and engage in the enforcement of federal immigrations codes.
- Bring U.S. immigration law in line with international human rights law by reforming asylum and refugee law and strengthening protections for children, crime victims, and victims of human trafficking
- Modernize and streamline the immigration process and eliminate the backlogs for those already in the queue. Simplify the paperwork process and utilize technology to cut wait times and bureaucratic delays.
- Make family reunification simpler by expanding the “immediate family” classification to reflect the cultural realities of many non-western or traditional societies from which immigrants come.
- Allow immigration judges the discretion to treat cases on an individual basis and make decisions based on the specific the circumstances and outcomes of the case.
- Make punishments of immigration crimes commensurate with comparable crimes in other areas of the law. A misdemeanor or civil violation of immigration law should not carry with it a punishment that would be comparable to a felony in a criminal case.
- End, or raise, the per-country cap that favors smaller nations with fewer immigrant applicants over larger developing nations and those countries that have long traditional ties to the US.
- Update the Registry Date in Sec 249 of the Immigration and Nationality Act to reflect the historical pattern of periodic updating. Current date should be updated to 1996.
- Eliminate 'crimes involving moral turpitude,' an amorphous legal holdover from Jim Crow
- Recognize that immigration is a vital part of maintaining a healthy and vibrant America. It is what has set this nation apart from all others since its inception. To close our borders to new immigrants is to cut off the lifeblood that has always made this nation grow and prosper.
Any legislation that claims to be truly progressive, pro-migrant, and in the best interests of both immigrant communities and the American people, should incorporate these principles to be not only effective long term, but practical, and most importantly humane.