Commentary: Reform Frameworks Give Some Hope, but Deepen Concerns that Punitive Enforcement Still Dominates Proposal


President Obama Can Lift Communities Now by Suspending Detentions and Deportations

The release this week of an immigration reform framework by a bipartisan group of Senators, followed by President Obama’s comments on his immigration proposal, are long-awaited and raise our expectations for immigration reform. For many years, immigrant communities around the country have been eager for action to address the flaws and tragic consequences of current policies.

To the extent the door for immigration reform is now open, we urge both Congress and the Administration to act responsibly and in good faith. Members of Congress should enact laws that are fair, just, humane, and do no further harm to the immigrant community.

The fact that legalization is now on the table for consideration is an important break in the debate and speaks to the significance of the political moment and the influence that voter turnout in the last election continues to have.

But it would be a shame and a human tragedy if the potential of this political moment is brought down by the insistence of some policy makers to hold legalization hostage to the ever-moving standard of “border security” and increased enforcement in the interior.  Or, if the legalization program itself severely limits the integration of immigrant men, women and children who could languish for a decade or more in a “probationary” period before having a chance to obtain a green card.

Moreover, the senators’ condition of a border security test—which the Administration asserts it has met through steady enforcement—continues to falsely link immigration with threats to national security. This framework justifies mean-spirited and punitive immigration enforcement programs, including repressive measures at the U.S.-Mexico border, where the deaths of thousands of migrant men, women and children and countless civil and human rights violations of border area residents, including U.S. citizens, give sad testimony to the consequences of flawed policies.

The senators’ framework and President Obama’s proposal also continue the very policies that have contributed to the human rights crisis for immigrants, including expanded worker verification, temporary worker programs, and sustained and increased enforcement, particularly at the borders.  As in any sweeping legislation, the “devil is in the details.” We will work closely with members and partners to scrutinize the proposals as they emerge and will continue to press for just and beneficial reforms.

Unfortunately, neither the senators nor President Obama address the longterm challenge of migration. There is no acknowledgement of the “root causes” of global migration—the factors of uneven economic development, unfair trade policies, civil strife, resource depletion, or increased population displacement due to global warming, among others—that drive people from their homelands and which our policies abroad help foment. (This is not to be confused with proposals for ‘streamlining legal immigration’ that mainly point to employment visas for future migrants, including the continuation of guest worker programs.)

Obama Can Give Hope Now - Suspend Detentions and Deportations

The President has urged that the legislative process move quickly. But he already has the power to make good on his promise “to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.” He can suspend immigration detentions and deportations and punitive enforcement programs like Secure Communities. This will ease community fears and help as many immigrants as possible to benefit from the positive reforms we hope are down the road. 

Surely, immigrants and their families deserve a chance at genuine immigration reform—to live a brighter, safer and more secure future for themselves and the benefit of the whole country.

Immigration Reform Resources

For updates, resources, background documents, check out our website section on Immigration Policy Reform. It will be regularly updated, so check back often.

New post! Be sure to check out the 10 Principles for Ensuring Fair and Human Immigration Policy, including link to endorse.

Building Immigrant Community Power Through Legislative Advocacy

We encourage groups organizing immigrant communities and allies to participate in this round of immigration reform to check out this BRIDGE popular education module. It's a free download and packed with tools and resources, especially geared for grassroots communities. 

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