For Immigration, A Remedy Worse Than the Illness

By Miguel Perez

May 28, 2007 6 min read

It never really mattered how much immigrant rights activists were willing to concede in order to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform. If the deal included any kind of legalization path for the 12 million illegal immigrants already in this country, the anti-immigrant Republicans were always going to oppose it.

Yet the Democrats kept making concessions, to the point that they finally agreed to a "compromise" that is far to the right of the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate last year.

The so-called bipartisan Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which is now before the U.S. Senate, is a huge disappointment to those who have marched and struggled for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.

The last hopes for true reform were ruined by a series of new provisions — concessions — which, while failing to appease the anti-immigrant hardliners, make this bill unacceptable to those who defend immigrant rights.

"The entire process is inhumane, unrealistic, cumbersome, and puts severe onus on the immigrant workers and families," says Partha Banerjee, a prominent immigrant rights advocate in New Jersey. Banerjee is one of those who have worked long and hard to make immigration reform a reality. But the bill currently in Congress has so many flaws that he can't go along with it. Banerjee calls it "an unworkable deal."

And he is not alone. Many other immigrant rights activists are finding so many problems with the new concessions added to the bill that, unless it is dramatically amended, they say it must be rejected.

In fact, some pro-immigrant organizations are saying that, as it stands, the current bill could create a situation that is worse than the status quo.

Imagine that — a remedy that could worsen the illness!

The measure would create "a society that is more divided and less free," according to the National Immigration Law Center, an organization that fought for comprehensive immigration reform and now argues that unless the bill can be improved on the Senate floor, it should be opposed.

The bill dismantles our country's bedrock principle of granting legal immigration based on the applicants' relationship to U.S. residents, while creating a point system that will favor skilled workers. It creates a new class of U.S. workers — "temporary guest workers" — who would not be allowed to seek permanent U.S. residency, "thereby perpetuating an indentured servitude," Banerjee says.

But to conservative hardliners, it's still "amnesty."

It requires illegal immigrants applying for legalization to seek an initial probationary status while border security measures and a worker ID program are implemented. It gets them on a path to a green card, which eventually leads to U.S. citizenship, but only after waiting 10 to 15 years, staying out of trouble, learning English, paying upwards of $10,000 in fees and fines and having the head of each household return to their home countries.

But the conservative hardliners still call it "amnesty."

Of course, that's a word that has received very negative press lately. Before conservative demagogues turned "amnesty" into a four-letter word, it used to stand for compassion, tolerance and hospitality — attributes that made us proud to be Americans.

But now — thanks to the fear-mongering xenophobes in Congress and the media — supporting amnesty is somehow considered a sign of weakness. To them, legislation that grants anything resembling amnesty is somehow unpatriotic.

And their loud rhetoric has led us to this point — a stalemate with a bill on the Senate floor that is unacceptable to both liberals and hardliners.

While some Republicans are trying to make the bill even more draconian, some Democrats are now introducing amendments to "improve" it.

"The most important areas we want to improve are on family reunification, the temporary worker program, and having a workable pathway to citizenship for the undocumented that does not include unnecessary hardships for those families," said Sen. Robert Menendez in his Saturday "Democratic Hispanic Radio Address." He vowed that Democrats "will keep fighting to make the improvements necessary so that this comprehensive legislation solves our nation's broken immigration system once and for all."

But since some key Democratic leaders, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, have signed on to the agreement, chances of passing some critically needed amendments are minimal.

"Our elected leaders, in their politically expedient maneuvering, excluded from the dialogue the millions of working-class, undocumented immigrants who came out and marched all across U.S. demanding a real, meaningful, comprehensive reform," Banerjee says. "The new deal, despite making some rudimentary progress, falls far short of their expectations and their children's aspirations."

To find out more about Miguel Perez, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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