Just when we thought we were about to see fair and compassionate immigration reform, when we thought the Latino vote in the presidential election had opened a real pathway to U.S. citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, when at least some Republicans seemed to be retreating from their anti-immigrant offensive, the Democrats caved!
The comprehensive immigration reform legislation drafted in secret and finally unveiled by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators known as the "Gang of Eight" — including four Democrats — is not the "path to legalization" many of us expected.
It's a minefield!
This road has so many detours, roadblocks and dead ends — so many ways to delay and even prevent undocumented immigrants from ever becoming citizens — that calling it a pathway insults our intelligence. At best, perhaps they could say they have created a "gauntlet" to legalization.
Only undocumented agricultural workers and immigrants who came here as youths — the so-called Dreamers — are getting a break here. They would be eligible for green cards (and citizenship for the Dreamers) within five years.
But for the rest, for the overwhelming majority, U.S. citizenship is at least 13 years away. They would be allowed to stay and work here legally, but they are lucky if they get to vote in the presidential election of 2028!
The bill creates a new category of second-class citizens who would be called "Registered Provisional Immigrants," and who would have to wait at least 10 years for a green card and at least three more years for citizenship. They would have to pay some $2,000 in fines and registration fees, and, as long as they remain in this provisional status, they would be excluded from health insurance coverage under Obamacare, and they would not be eligible for public welfare benefits.
Undocumented immigrants already are paying taxes, learning English and proving they can be outstanding citizens, yet they would have to continue doing that for another decade before they could even apply for permanent residency.
Also, the bill only applies to immigrants who entered (or remained in) the country illegally before Dec. 31, 2011. Those who came later would not be eligible and presumably would continue living here as undocumented immigrants.
In other words, the illegal immigration problem would be reduced, not solved.
Nevertheless, if and when this bill is passed by Congress and signed by the president, no one really knows how long it would actually take for most of these immigrants to become citizens — if ever!
That's because their "provisional" status could be extended beyond 10 years if the federal government is unable to almost completely shut down illegal entries from Mexico. The bill says their switch from "provisional" to "permanent" residents can't even begin until the Department of Homeland Security has spent billions implementing much stricter measures to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and preventing undocumented workers from obtaining employment throughout the country.
And if anything fails along the way — if Congress is unable come up with the $4.5 billion needed to fund the bill's additional border security measures, if DHS is unable to establish "effective control in high-risk border sectors along the Southern border," if it takes a long time to implement an effective E-verify employment system throughout the country; well then, under this bill, these immigrants would remain "provisional" indefinitely.
In fact, if DHS can't "substantially" realize these nearly impossible feats within five years, second-class citizenship may be here to stay. That's because according to this bill, if 90 percent border enforcement effectiveness is not reached within five years, a commission of politicians dominated by border-state governors would have to be created, and chances that they would agree that the border is secure are nonexistent.
Of course, this is just what Republican wanted. They don't really care if undocumented immigrants are allowed to stay here. What they really want to prevent — or at least delay — is those 11 million people from voting.
Because they have been clearly identified as the party with more than a few immigrant bashers, Republicans know that if undocumented immigrants were to be able to vote in the near future, the GOP would feel a stinging backlash. They know that if undocumented immigrants were to become citizens soon, an overwhelming majority would also become Democrats.
But why would the Democrats in the "Gang of Eight" allow the Republicans to buy so much time? Why so long until undocumented immigrants get the chance to vote Republicans out of office? Is this the best they could get at a time when the majority of Americans are calling for real immigration reform?
When all the stars were lining up for immigration legislation that reflected the will of the American people, why are Democrats settling for a bill that reflects the will of the Republican Party?
How could Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado be so bamboozled by John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina?
Yet we hear Schumer (with a straight face) telling us that this is a "balanced bill" and President Obama washing his hands like Pontius Pilate, failing to lead, and saying in a statement that, "This bill is clearly a compromise ... and no one will get everything they wanted, including me."
The ease with which Democrats are willing to cave on this issue is scary!
But was starting from such a moderate position a wise move by Democrats? Don't they know that conservative hawks will introduce numerous amendments to dilute this measure further?
Isn't that how Democrats just lost the fight over gun control? Remember how even a watered-down, bipartisan bill on background checks for firearms was eventually defeated in the Senate?
Well, this could be deja vu all over again.
And it could come back to haunt the four Democrats in the "Gang of Eight" and the president who supported them, especially if someday we look back in retrospect and see that they allowed the Republicans to build too many roadblocks on the gauntlet to legalization.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.