House Republicans plan to kill immigration reform
While most Republicans remain with the Tea Party’s anti-immigrant position to only pass legislation to enhance border security and intensify enforcement, bringing even more mass prosecutions and deportations, two California Republican Congressmen from districts with a high density of Latinos ( Jeff Denham and David Valado) have called for some features of reform including a path toward citizenship, but oppose the provisions of Senate bill. Community groups are focusing on changing the votes of Republican holdouts in districts around the nation. However on September 20, Texas Republicans John Carter and Sam Johnson resigned from the house bi-partisan effort known as the Gang of Seven. Their action probably ends the possibility of House compromise or a bi-partisan bill from the House. In response two progressive Democrats from the group of 7, Grijalva (Arizona) and Becerra (Ca.) intend to introduce a bill similar to the Senate Bill S 744, stripped of its Republican amendment to add $ 26 billion of additional border enforcement.
In September the AFL-CIO at its convention in Los Angeles passed a strong immigrants’ rights resolution saying:
EVERY DAY, more than 11 million aspiring citizens contribute to our communities, our economy and our country — yet they are effectively not covered by our fundamental labor law and are denied essential rights in our society.
A strong and vibrant democracy cannot function unless all men and women living and working within its borders, regardless of their skin color or their place of birth, can participate meaningfully in the political process with full rights and equal protections.
The union movement recognizes that the way we treat aspiring citizens reflects our commitment to democracy and the values that define us.
Working people are strongest when no group of workers is exploited, and the union movement is strongest when it is open to all workers regardless of where they were born.
(Read the full resolution here. http://www.aflcio.org/About/Exec-Council/Conventions/2013/Resolutions-and-Amendments)
The convention and the member unions pledged to make a sustained effort for immigration reform and to bring immigrants into their unions.
In California the organizing momentum for immigrants’ rights has produced long-sought new legislation to provide driver’s licenses for undocumented drivers and passage of the Trust Act, encouraging local police to not hold for deportation persons arrested for minor civil violations such as selling tamales to feed their families. Political organizing dependent upon Latino votes also produced passage of an increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour in 2014 and $10 per hour in 2016. The governor has signed the minimum wage bill.
SEIU (Service Employees International ) and others have scheduled nationwide demonstrations for Oct.5 as a part of the March for Dignity and Respect. You can find your nearest march here: http://octoberimmigration.org/october-5-events .
In addition to an unnecessary and very expensive border surge, costing some $46 billion additional dollars, inserted into the S 744 bill at the behest of lobbyists for technology and security firms, the current Senate bill will exclude millions of people from applying for legal status because of the income requirements that penalize the working poor. The Senate bill S 744 would cover at most 8 million people, not the original 11.1 million. Immigrant community groups and unions have proposed far more progressive alternatives. And, the bill expands the E-Verify work identification system.
A number of repressive bills have been produced in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, (R. Virginia – 6th) chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has passed a bill, HR 1773, which would re-establish the prior bracero program (guest workers) with many of its worst features, tying the work visa to a single farm corporation, company housing, controlled wages, an external “savings” bank, and more.
Goodlatte’s Judiciary Committee has also passed HR 2278, the SAFE act, which grants states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Such enforcement has been a major source of abuse of migrants and extended and expensive incarceration. Currently some 400,000 are held in private corporate detention centers, costing over $5 billion per year. The so-called SAFE act will dramatically increase private and abusive detention processes and costs since the act makes it profitable for a county or a state to increase arrests
Other Republican bills in the House include HR 1417, the Border Security Act, HR 2131, the Skills Visa Act, and HR 1772, the Legal Workforce Act (E-Verify). Goodlatte has also announced that legislation coming out of his House panel will not include a pathway to citizenship. And, there are a number of Republicans in the House, such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who only want the enhanced border enforcement with sharply restricted provisions for changing immigrants’ status.
The House leadership approach is to produce a series of bills on separate issues, not a comprehensive bill. They plan, for example, to get a majority vote on the enhanced border enforcement, drones, and prison growth, while knowing that an independent bill offering a reasonable pathway to citizenship would fail in the Republican House. By dividing up the issues they intend to win on the repressive measures and block comprehensive immigration reform such as that favored by community groups, labor and DSA.
Since the Senate bill is so bad, and possibly to get worse, why then do national labor leaders argue that the bill should be supported? Well, it is something. Both SEIU and UNITE/HERE among others, have hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million workers who hope for legalization. The argument is that we should get them through the pipeline – even at the cost of a repressive bill. The ILWU, among others, opposes this approach.
However, the Republican control of the House of Representatives and the Republican Congresspersons stand against significant real immigration reform will probably kill the bill for this year.
The Latino community and the Spanish language news sources are following the debates on immigration closely, while in general the English language news coverage is episodic.
Duane Campbell is a professor (emeritus) of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento, a union activist, and chair of Sacramento DSA. He has worked on immigration reform issues for over 30 years. Portions of this post were originally published in Democratic Left.