From the Mexico Solidarity Network: The Immigration Debate
This is a special report from this weeks MSN weekly news & analysis. The report outlines the current political debate over immigration in the United States.
President Bush reached a tentative agreement this week with leading Democratic and Republican Senators on immigration reform. The surprise Thursday announcement capped months of reportedly difficult negotiations that produced a reform package supported by strange bedfellows – liberal Democrats and some conservative Republicans (read the near right and far right of the US political spectrum). The agreement apparently offers something for everyone, but also something that almost everyone can hate. What does the agreement contain? Is there any possibility of immigration reform this year? And what would genuine comprehensive reform look like?
The compromise agreement represents a Bush retreat from last year’s White House proposal that would have offered a modified amnesty program. This year’s proposal leaves legal status a distant dream for the majority of the 12 million undocumented workers currently contributing to the US economy. Their below poverty wages in fruit and vegetable harvesting, meatpacking, hotels and restaurants, domestic work, and seasonal construction would be rewarded with hefty fines of at least US$5,000 in exchange for a “Z” visa (non-immigrant residency). In addition, immigrants would suffer through an apparently interminable process that would likely leave families divided as the heads of households are forced to return to their home countries to wait as the immigration bureaucracy processes residency papers. With back taxes and processing fees, a typical immigrant could easily pay more than US$10,000, and perhaps in excess of US$20,000, for legal status that could ultimately take eight years or longer to sort out. From the perspective of the immigrant community, this is the best part of the pending legislation. These expensive and exclusionary means to legal status would not kick in until the Border Patrol increases its staff to 18,000 from the current 12,000, and at least half of the planned 700-mile border wall is completed. The plan also includes a dramatic change in immigration law, instituting a complicated merit system that would give future preference to educated and skilled workers over family unification. This would not affect spouses or minor children, but every other family member would likely be excluded from the possibility of legal migration, representing a dramatic change in decades of US immigration law which has always shown some preference for family reunification. The plan also introduces a complicated guest worker program that will create a second class work force. Temporary workers could come to the US on a two-year visa, renewable for two additional two-year terms, but with at least a year between renewals in which workers would have to return to their native countries. In a plan that resembles in many ways the post World War II Bracero program, family members could not accompany temporary workers, and visas would be attached to employment, with unemployed workers exposed to immediate expulsion. The proposal calls for 400,000 to 600,000 guest workers per year, which in a few years would likely create another generation of undocumented workers as many immigrants overstay their visas rather than risk leaving the US for uncertain or nonexistent economic opportunities in their home countries. Supposedly, the expensive normalization strategy is pro-immigrant, while the rest of the proposal is a sop to right wing nativists who want increased border security and big business owners who want a cheap, pliable workforce.