Friday, June 21, 2013

Response to the Immigration Reform Bill


As organizations participating in the Dignity Campaign for 
Immigration Reform Based on Human and Labor Rights, we are very 
concerned about the harsh impact the Senate's immigration reform bill will have on immigrants.  Rather than 'bring immigrants out of the  shadows' this bill will hold millions in an underclass, vulnerable to exploitation and relegated to the ranks of the working poor, with no  access to basic services.  Millions will have no hope of receiving permanent legal status, let alone citizenship.

We believe this bill will affect our communities for decades to come, in the same way we continue to feel the negative effects of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed in 1986.  It is important to look at what our world will be like if the Senate's version of  immigration reform passes, to expose the negative impacts the bill will have, and especially prepare to defend our communities.

We want legal immigration status for people living in the U.S. who don't have it, and believe this desire unites millions in this country.  Diverse groups with many different experiences are all fighting today for the civil, labor and human rights of immigrants, and of all working people.  This fight didn't start with this bill - it's been going on for generations.  It won't end with it either.

This bill, however, does not reflect the aspirations of a majority of the US population to provide permanent resident status to the undocumented.  It is instead the product of corporate America, which wants to hold down the cost of labor, especially in high tech, the hotel and restaurant industry, construction, and the food growing and processing industry. Massive enforcement creates money-making opportunities through continued detention and constructing more border walls, which we all already know will not stop the flow of 

1.  The bill's legalization program is designed to delay permanent 
legal status, and exclude huge numbers of people.

There are far more restrictions on the legalization program in this 
bill then there were in 1986, although that was a limited bill also. 
Instead of an inclusive program that quickly gives legal status to 11 
million people, it sets up a series of difficult hurdles, especially 
for low-income people.

Wealthy people can essentially buy visas, and the bill codifies and 
expands their ability to do that permanently, under one of the 
amendments.  It gives preference to those with money who can pay to 
study in universities and those who want to invest here.  It 
requires, however, people to make 1.25 times the poverty level to 
remain eligible once they've applied for provisional resident status. 
Millions of undocumented workers make wages close to the legal 
minimum.  Working full time, the federal minimum is $15,080 per year. 
Millions of people can't even get that much work.

A single person would have to make $14,362 to keep their provisional 
status, so even losing a few weeks a year could make them ineligible, 
or force them to work excessive hours to maintain this salary. 
Getting fired would be disastrous, making joining unions or 
advocating for rights extremely risky.  And of course, millions of 
single parents supporting children, clearly wouldn't qualify, since a 
family of four would have to keep an income of $29,437 to maintain 
status.  That's more than two fulltime minimum wage jobs.

This would go on for ten years, before a person in provisional status 
could apply for a green card.  Most minimum wage or low-income jobs 
have no security for anywhere near that long.  In the meantime, 
provisional status holders would have to pay a total of $2000 by the 
end of that time, per family member or in some cases per family. 
People would have to enroll in English classes to show they are 
trying to learn the language (a clear violation of the Treaty of 
Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which guaranteed Spanish-language rights.) 
Too many arrests for even minor crimes would disqualify applicants. 
In most poor communities of color, young people are targeted for 
anti-gang enforcement measures, and many build up records that would 
make them ineligible.

Many will not qualify for legalization and many with RPI status and W 
visas, for instance, are at risk of losing status at any point.  The 
net result of these exclusions is that the number of people who will 
be able to reach the 10-year goal posts for permanent legal status is 
not 11 million, but more likely half of that, according to many legal 

What will happen to the millions of people in our communities who 
will not qualify, or who become disqualified along the way?  Because 
of the bill's increased enforcement measures, their situation will be 
worse than it is today.  It would criminalize job search for those 
who have no status and force immigrants back 'into the shadows'.  Our 
community must think about how it will defend them - politically, 
economically, legally and socially.

Some immigrant communities and unions and leaders, especially in the 
Democratic Party, believe that despite the bill's drawbacks millions 
of people will eventually gain U.S. citizenship.  They project that 
they will become voters who might change the political direction in 
important cities and states.  In Los Angeles, the legalization of 
1986 eventually led to the city's changed voting population, and a 
much more progressive city government.  In California the state 
itself is benefiting from this demographic shift.  Increasing the 
votes of immigrants could change the politics of Mississippi, North 
Carolina and other states now firmly controlled by the political 

This is an important political goal because immigrants deserve 
political rights, like all other working people.  And when they get 
those rights, other working people benefit directly as well.

The current bill, however, is not a sure path to that goal.  A lot 
can happen over the next 10 years.  A reactionary administration or 
hostile Congress could change the way legalization is administered -- 
even repeal it -- before immigrants reach permanent legal status.  In 
immigrant families, where documented and undocumented people live 
together, the bill's devastating impact will affect everyone.

There is no doubt that our communities need legalization, and are 
willing to pay a price to get it.  So the question immigrant 
communities need to ask ourselves is - how high a price are we 
willing to pay?  Should we support a trade-off of some legalization 
for the codification of all the enforcement programs that we have 
fought against over the last 25 years? Or, should we build the 
movement we need to win legalization without sacrificing the rights 
of immigrants, and lining the pockets of the enforcement industrial 

2. The bill will continue the criminalization of immigrants.

The U.S. already spends more money on immigration enforcement than 
all other Federal enforcement programs combined.  S.744 authorizes 
spending at least another $5.5 billion on enforcement at the border 
alone, at a time when our communities lack investments in schools and 
healthcare.  It relies on increased enforcement to force migrants 
into labor supply programs, designed to keep the cost of labor down 
and enforce low wages.

This bill will not end the enforcement programs that have led to the 
massive wave of deportations over the last decade, especially Secure 
Communities and 287g.  It continues to criminalize the lack of legal 
immigration status.  This will have a big impact on those who can't 
qualify for legalization, and those who come without papers in the 

At worksites throughout the country, tens of thousands of workers 
have been fired every year for the past decade, for not having legal 
immigration status.  This is the result of the last reform - employer 
sanctions - part of IRCA in 1986.  Under pressure from labor and 
immigrant rights groups, the bill now has provisions that would bar 
employers from using the lack of immigration status to punish workers 
for organizing unions or enforcing labor standards.  This is an 
important improvement.

But the reality is that the vast majority of workers who have been 
fired in recent years for lacking legal status were fired at the 
demand of federal authorities, not as a result of retaliation.  The 
bill not only allows these firings to continue, but would make them 
much more widespread by making it mandatory for all employers to 
check workers' status using the E-Verify database.  An added 
amendment calls for weekly reports of those applying for jobs whose 
legal status is "not confirmed," targetting even those looking for 

In 1986, many of our current immigrant rights coalitions began in the 
effort to defend workers from the implementation of employer 
sanctions, the provision that said employers can't hire people 
without papers.  In effect, this criminalized work for the 
undocumented, and led to workplace raids, I-9 audits and firings, and 
the creation of the E-Verify database.

Because the bill ignores the root causes of migration, all new 
undocumented workers coming in the future, plus those who fall out of 
the legalization process, will become even more vulnerable.  It will 
become mandatory for all employers to use the E-Verify database, both 
to screen new hires and their existing workers.  Workers without 
papers will lose their jobs, and find it much harder to find new 
ones, and their families and communities will suffer because of it. 
But very few will leave the country.  As we say, Aqui Estamos y No 
Nos Vamos, y Si Nos Echan, Nos Regresamos.

On the border, the bill will triple the money now spent on the 
Operation Streamline court in Tucson, where young migrants are 
brought in chains, and then sentenced to federal prison for crossing 
the border without papers more than once.  S. 744 will deploy drones 
and military-style enforcement including more border patrol agents 
and the National Guard.  Despite promises of a greater commitment to 
civil rights in border communities (in a region now defined broadly 
as 100 miles from the actual line) this militarization will 
inevitably undermine rights and create greater fear. Private 
corporations will run even more detention centers for immigrants - 
another industry that will clearly benefit from the bill.

If it were true that migration is slowing drastically, and that 
future migrants will only be coming as guest workers, there would be 
no need for this ferocious enforcement.  But in fact, the bill is 
assuming that people will continue to come without papers.  The real 
impact is already plain in the desert, where hundreds die every year 
trying to cross.  These deaths will continue as a result of this 
bill's provisions.

3.  Migration will continue on a large scale, if we continue to 
ignore the root causes for displacement.

Over two hundred million people worldwide now live outside the 
countries where they were born.  Corporate trade agreements and 
structural adjustment programs produce poverty and global inequality, 
displacing communities in developing countries.  During the NAFTA 
years, from 1994 to the present, the number of Mexicans alone living 
in the U.S. grew from 4.6 million to 13 million - 11% of Mexico's 
population.  The percentage of Central Americans migrating is even 

Increasingly, in Mexico, the Philippines and other countries of 
origin, social movements are challenging forced migration, calling 
for political change and economic development that would make 
migration voluntary.  They advocate for the right to not migrate - 
for a decent future with jobs, healthcare and education.   The Senate 
bill, however, does not recognize the roots of migration, or call for 
renegotiating treaties like NAFTA that produce displacement.

This movement of people won't stop.  The basic conditions that force 
people to leave home haven't changed.  In fact, the bill assumes that 
it will continue, and proposes a series of guest worker visa programs 
and extreme enforcement measures to deal with continued migration.

The bill continues to link labor supply programs and enforcement, and 
is codifying into law what has become the hallmark of U.S. 
immigration policy over the past decade, temporary workers.  Each 
year over the last several years, the U.S. has deported 400,000 
people, while allowing corporations to recruit at least 250,000 in 
formal guest worker programs (H1B, H2A and H2B) and hundreds of 
thousands on other work visas.  This is moving back towards the 
bracero era, where in the mid-1950s the U.S. deported a million 
people annually, while allowing growers to recruit over 400,000.

In 1964 and 1965 the bracero program was abolished and replaced with 
a family-based system - an achievement of our civil rights movement. 
In 1986 IRCA began to move us backwards, reinstituting guest worker 
programs and criminalizing border crossing and work for the 

S. 744 accelerates that movement backwards.  It restricts 
family-based immigration by ending brother and sister preferences, 
and restricting petitions for adult children.  It's employer bias is 
clear in establishing a point system in which employability 
(corporate needs) will have much greater weight in future migration 
than family relationships.

After starving the family preference system for visas to the point 
where reunification sometimes takes decades, S.744 proposes to clear 
the backlogs as a prelude to expanding a corporate labor supply 
system.  But S.744 won't make the family visa system function better. 
It will be much harder a decade from now for immigrants living in the 
U.S. to reunite their families, especially for low wage workers and 
farm workers.  And after the Democratic Senators' surrender in the 
Judiciary Committee, LGBT families will continue to be excluded from 
the family petition and reunification process.

4.  The bill will vastly expand guest worker programs, and force most 
migrants to come to the U.S. through them

Guest worker programs all allow employers to recruit workers in other 
countries, and then give them visas that require them to work in 
order to stay.  They have a history of abuse that goes back to the 
original bracero program, and programs that preceded it.

Henry Anderson, the only U.S. academic who interviewed braceros while 
the program was going on, made a study in 1956 that the University of 
California halted under grower pressure.  One bracero told him, "We 
come here like animales rentados [rented animals], not like men." 
Anderson saw that, like today's migrants motivated by the need to 
survive, "All but a few were coerced workers, driven by a force more 
powerful than a physical lash - their hunger and that of their 
families."  He points out that contract labor programs today suffer 
the same inequality of power:  "There will be major abuses in any 
contract labor system if all the power is on one side...It will 
happen if a 'guest worker' program is enacted, no matter what honeyed 
phrases may be coined.  It is in the nature of the beast."

Defenders of the Senate's expanded programs claim that, while some of 
the most abusive present programs, like H2B, will expand, protections 
have been negotiated for new ones.  They point to the ability of 
workers to move from one registered employer and job to another, to 
sue their employers in court, and (for some) eventually apply for 
permanent residence visas.  These will not, however, change the 
imbalance of power in these programs, especially since the punishment 
for being unemployed beyond a few weeks is still deportation.  That 
alone gives employers near total power over these workers, which is 
why they want the programs. Anderson's study revealed that measures 
set up to protect workers from abuse during the bracero era were 
never implemented.

The cost of guest worker programs is borne by immigrant and resident 
workers both.  Immigrants become deportable if they lose their jobs 
and can't quickly find others, making the risk of joining unions or 
enforcing labor standards very high.  If resident workers try to 
demand living wages that can support families, employers can declare 
a labor shortage and demand more guest workers at lower wages.  This 
creates an effective ceiling on wages at the bottom of the U.S. wage 
scale.  This bill increases competition among low wage workers at a 
time when wages are barely livable, and  among high-skilled workers 
as well, negatively affecting local economies everywhere..  At the 
same time, many Mexican activists say the recruitment is saddling 
them with a corrupt system protected by political patronage, forcing 
people into debt.

By the end of a decade, the number of workers brought by corporations 
on work visas could easily reach a half million per year.  This will 
hold down wages in all industries where employers use the programs, 
and hurt local economies.

Over the years, many immigrant and labor rights activists have called 
for expanding the number of permanent resident visas instead, since 
green card holders have greater rights.  Under S.744, some guest 
workers can apply for green cards, but only after they work years of 
servitude.  Instead, it would be better for people who come to the 
U.S. to work if we give them green cards at the start, which would 
give them greater rights and equality in our communities, and make it 
easier for them to organize to raise low wages and join unions.

If the interest of employers were not in holding workers captive to 
low wages, they would have no problem competing for workers, whether 
citizen or immigrant, in an open labor market.  The bill, however, 
clearly represents employer interests against those of workers.  It 
is no coincidence that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various Silicon 
Valley mega rich corporations, the Associated Building Contractors, 
growers and other major business groups have spent millions lobbying 
for the Senate bill.

5.  S. 744 will expand the surveillance industrial complex.

Using public safety and security as a justification, the proposed 
bill further strengthens and legitimizes the national security state, 
mixing current and new technologies, enhancing operational 
capacities, and adding thousands of new customs and border patrol 
agents.  Its coded language of "border security" and "criminal 
alien," rationalizes the investment of public funds in surveillance 
equipment, data collection and data mining, enhanced communications 
ability and information sharing between federal, state, local, and 
tribal law enforcement agencies.

The Secure Communities program set up the bill's provisions for 
expanding the E-Verify system: "every non-citizen will be required to 
show their biometric work authorization card, or their biometric 
green card. These photographs will be stored in the E-Verify system." 
Those photographs will be linked to existing data bases, creating the 
template for a future biometric national ID card.

The 2013 bill will lead to the creation of one of the largest 
databases, by combining several existing ones, including people who 
have committed a crime, DNA records, and absconders, along with 
seemingly benign sources, such as DMV and SSA.  It will include 
behavioral profiles created by "suspicious activity" reporting 
programs and the national counter terrorism center.  This database 
will then be accessible to federal, state, local, and tribal law 
enforcement agencies, public benefit agencies, and even private 
contractors and foreign partners in the "war on terror."  Gathering, 
storing, sharing and disseminating information all become tools for 
social control.

Drones have been in use for some time to patrol land borders and 
shorelines, which has now become a precedent to normalize their use 
as an "essential" tool in law enforcement. The bill will expand this 
use.  Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is required to 
allow free use of airspace by drones by 2015.

6. We have more power if we get radical.

It is clear that the bill is not going to be amended in the Senate in 
any way that changes its basic structure or impact.  In the House of 
Representatives the domination of Republicans will force Democrats to 
make even more concessions to get the votes for passage.  So the bill 
will continue to move to the right, not to the left.

In this political calculus, the bill's sponsors are clearly not 
afraid of losing progressive or community support.  They only fear 
the Republicans and employers - the pressure from the right.  As a 
result, the President recently made it clear once again that the only 
thing we can achieve is what a Republican Congress will vote for, or 
what employers are willing to accept.  In Washington DC there is no 
strategy beyond a vote on this bill, and especially no strategy for 
what we will have to do afterwards.

In this context, it is important not to get boxed in politically. 
Part of advocating for our communities is deciding what we are for, 
and refusing to accept what those who control the process in Congress 
put on the table.  We have to know where we're going.  This is about 
more than just a bill, or one political fight this year.  We've been 
fighting for rights and equality for many years, and this fight is 
going to continue for a long time to come.

So what is our goal?  What does justice look like?  During the civil 
rights movement in the south, activists and community members said 
the fight wasn't just about the right to sit at the lunch counter, 
but to get the money to buy a meal, and then to register to vote to 
win political power in the community.  We have to think like they 
did.  We have more leverage if we fight for more radical goals, not 
less.  Right now the Gang of Eight isn't afraid of us, or trying to 
win us over.  The right has all the power here, and the bill will 
move to the right as a result.

The dreamers taught us all, however, that what seems impossible today 
can become possible tomorrow if we organize and fight for what we 
want.  They also showed that it was possible to force the 
administration to change the way it enforces existing law.  First 
they defended from deportation the undocumented youth who came out 
publicly.  Then they got a Dream Act bill introduced, and finally 
made the administration grant deferred action administratively.

Today the administration is continuing the deportations at 400,000 a 
year, despite a bill that (they say) would give most undocumented 
legal status.  ICE forces employers to fire thousands of workers from 
their jobs to show it's "tough" on enforcement.  Even if all those 
workers did get status, they will never get their jobs back.  Instead 
of holding union jobs paying well above the requirement for 
legalization, they'll be forced into the informal economy where 
legalization will become out of reach.

Instead of a strategy focused exclusively on Washington DC, we need 
one that takes action on the ground, where we live.  This includes 
action against deportations, and to stop the firings.  Immigrant 
workers and their families should not be used as political cannon 
fodder to pass the Senators' bill.  Action on the ground can 
dramatize our need for the reforms we really want.

7.  What are people proposing that are elements of what we want?

We need to continue to hold the discussions in our organizations and 
communities that develop our own program for justice.  Many 
organizations have been doing this over the past year.  Instead of 
stopping because a bill is in Congress, we should pay attention to 
what people say they want.

The Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) says we need 
to get rid of trade agreements that displace communities in Mexico.

Workers fired at the San Diego Hilton, Albanese Construction, Mi 
Pueblo markets, Pacific Steel Castings,, ABM, Dobake Bakery, as well 
as the community hunger strikers who support them, say get rid of the 
firings and criminalization of work.

Community2Community and the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance 
say get rid of guest worker programs, and give people green cards 

The Coalicion de Derechos Humanos says tear down the border wall and 
end the Operation Streamline court.

People of faith demonstrating in front of the detention centers in 
Richmond, California,  Tacoma, Washington, and across the country say 
get rid of these privately run prisons.

Filipino Advocates for Justice and the Asian Law Caucus say get rid 
of the 22-year backlogs keeping people from reuniting their families 
in the U.S., and expand family migration instead of ending 
preferences for family members.

Unions like UFCW, LIUNA, ILWU, UNITE HERE and SEIU say make it a 
crime when employers use immigration status to deny workers labor 

And across this country, millions of people say we want a 
legalization program that includes all 11 million people and that 
doesn't make people wait more than a couple of years to get it.

In 1955 voting rights for African Americans and Chicanos looked like 
a dream a century away.  The fields were filled with 500,000 
braceros, while a million other immigrants were deported.  Yet ten 
years later we had the Voting Rights Act, the bracero program was 
ended, and family reunification had started.  Farm workers went on 
strike in Coachella and Delano, and the United Farm Workers was born. 
This didn't happen by accepting Congress' view of the world.  It 
happened by forcing them to view the word through our eyes.

We can have an immigration policy based on human rights, but we have 
to have a social movement with radical goals in order to fight for 
it.  And if they tell us "no se puede," that we can't get there, our 
answer is "si se puede," yes, we can.


David Bacon, Photographs and Stories

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