Grand Bargain or Huge Rip-Off?

By Miguel Perez

May 14, 2007 6 min read

Betraying America's commitment to a family-based immigration system, a group of key U.S. senators and White House officials are reportedly negotiating a "grand bargain" immigration reform package that would shift the primary basis for legal immigration and prolong the separation of families divided by borders.

Granting visas to immigrants based on their skills as workers, rather than their family ties to U.S. residents, as proposed in the so-called "bargain" deal, is nothing but a huge rip-off.

In return for allowing some 12 million illegal immigrants to stay here on a path to legalization that will take many years to complete, the hardliners are now offering a new unacceptable deal.

They are asking all immigrants to give up their hopes of reuniting with relatives who live abroad. For most immigrants, getting a visa for a relative to come live in the United States can take decades. But they want to make the already extremely sluggish family-reunification process slow to a crawl.

"The 'grand bargain' is a sellout," charged the pro-immigrant New York Immigration Coalition in a statement denouncing the principles outlined in the White House-negotiated "bargain" as "repugnant to our nation's most fundamental values of strong families and basic fairness."

The coalition noted that the deal reportedly struck between the White House, Senate Republicans and chief negotiators for Senate Democrats includes "triggers" that "obstruct the legalization process, dismantles our family-based immigration system by eliminating the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor some of their closest relatives, and creates a temporary worker program that promotes exploitation of low-wage workers in a permanent underclass and drives down wages and working conditions for all American workers."

Currently, more than 60 percent of all legal immigrants enter this country because of family preferences and about 15 percent are employment-based. It is not clear by how much that ratio would be reversed under the proposed "bargain."

The "bargain" deal, as announced by Sen. Arlen Specter, comes just in time for this week's deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to begin the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, Specter called on Reid to postpone the start of the debate because the final text of the compromise still had to be worked out.

But now immigrant rights activists are urging Reid to present alternative legislation that is more along the lines of the McCain-Kennedy bill passed by the Senate last year.

The New York coalition, for example, is asking its followers to "urge Senator Reid to do the right thing and introduce a stronger bill that would provide broad legalization for all immigrants; a future worker program that includes a path to citizenship and strong worker protections; family unity; and strong protections of due process and civil rights."

The "bargain" arrangement would still include many of the security provision the hardliners wanted, including more border fencing near major cities and stronger sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants. To become legal, immigrants would still have to pay fines and back taxes, attain a proficiency in English and stay out of trouble.

Shifting the basis for granting visas from family reunification to a skills-based system was said to be a last-ditch effort, one more concession to sway conservative Republicans to go along with a legalization plan.

"If you swallow the bitter pill you call amnesty," the hardliners are being told, "we'll find another way to continue to be cruel to immigrants — legal and illegal. Heck, we'll just make it harder for them to be reunited with their families!"

They are also being told that perhaps there are ways to delay the time when illegal immigrants would become citizens, and voters. After all, they know that these immigrants are likely to remember politicians who thrashed them for so long.

The "bargain" means that the system establishing family ties as the basis of U.S. immigration would be replaced by one that would consider a prospective immigrant's skills more important than kinship.

Of course, we all know that there's nothing more important than family. Indeed, the well being of their families is the main reason why most immigrants make many sacrifices to come here.

But we all know why conservative extremists want this shift in our immigration system, don't we? It has nothing to do with skilled workers. They couldn't care less about the skills of these immigrants. In fact, they know that what we need is a lot of unskilled workers to do the minimal jobs Americans don't want.

What they want is to stop the current system, in which new legal residents can later sponsor their extended families. That's what they are worried about — the so-called "chain migration" that will bring a growing number of Latinos who will eventually become citizens and voters.

"Chain migration" is a very scary phrase to America's xenophobes. Yet, their "bargain" is unacceptable.

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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