Senate Immigration Bill Dashes Hopes for Fair, Just Reform
'Border surge' approval further threatens border communities, migrant safety and well-being
(Oakland, CA) With the Senate’s passage of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, the Board of Directors and members of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights voiced their disappointment and concern with the dramatic escalation of border enforcement negotiated to secure support from conservative Republican senators hostile to the legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Executive Director, Catherine Tactaquin, commented, “The Senate passed a historic immigration reform bill yesterday. We had hoped the bill would have been historic for upholding the human rights of immigrants, for providing fair and equitable access to visas, protecting their rights as workers, fueling resources to process the long backlog of pending family visa applicants, and ending flawed and punitive immigration enforcement policies at the border and in the interior. “ She continued, “Unfortunately, S. 744 was not that bill. This is not the kind of legislation and deal-making that we can support nor encourage.”
Susan Alva, a Los Angeles-based immigrants rights attorney, also criticized the immigration “compromise”: “Legislative deal-making is a given. But in this bill, the legalization carrot has been beaten to a pulp by an enforcement stick that staggers the imagination. By shamelessly presenting this as a victory, proponents of this bill are banking on the toll that years of historic levels of enforcement have already taken on immigrant communities. This is not compromise; this is blackmail."
Board member Christian Ramirez, Human Rights Director at Alliance San Diego, spoke to the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment added in the final days of negotiations: "Despite this unwarranted aggression against 15 million people who call the border home and the irresponsible language of war and occupation used in the Senate floor to refer to the safest region in the United States, southern border communities will continue to ensure that rights and dignity are restored for the betterment of the people of the United States.” He continued, “The threat of militarization by policy makers has no place in a democratic society. Social and economic needs cannot and must not be resolved through military might if we are to preserve our morals and values as a society.”
Board Chairperson Eduardo Canales of Corpus Christi, Texas, added that the bill “perpetuates and enhances failed policies of increased enforcement on the border and will continue to increase migrant deaths.” He also warned that the expansion of the “E-verify” employment verification system would “allow further discrimination and racial profiling of immigrants and other workers of color.”
Other board members also raised an alarm about the consequences of the dramatic escalation of the border security program. Hamid Khan, based in Southern California, stated that the bill served as a model for what he termed as the “Surveillance Industrial Complex.” “Under the guise of public safety and security, he commented, “the bill is a political investment in the further strengthening and legitimization of the police state.” He identified the huge transfer of public funds to be invested in surveillance equipment, data collection and data mining, enhanced communications interoperability and information sharing between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. “Intermixing current and new technologies, enhancing operational capacities, adding thousands of new customs and border patrol agents are key steps in a full spectrum of information gathering, storing, sharing and disseminating as necessary tools for social control.”
Monami Maulik, Executive Director of the New York-based Desis Rising Up and Moving-DRUM, raised similar concerns. “This bill is not what thousands of our members, as South Asian immigrants, have been organizing tirelessly for years alongside so many communities,” she said. “Congress will send an alarming message to all of us and the world, that human rights are no concern to the U.S.” She continued, “This bill is using immigration as an excuse to further a national security state—to fly drones above us, surveil us, and set the stage for a national ID system and database. We need real human rights-based reform. The world is watching.”
Gerald Lenoir, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, described the bill as “a nasty piece of legislation that attempts to codify repression on the border and wasteful spending.” He also expressed concern about the limitations of the legalization program: “It falls far short of the promise of a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. The onerous work and income provisions will disqualify millions of low income undocumented immigrants from accessing the path to a green card and citizenship.”
“S. 744 does not deliver even our minimum aspiration for immigration reform: bringing the undocumented community ‘out of the shadows’, commented Lillian Galedo, Executive Director of Filipino Advocates for Justice, based in Oakland, California. “The proposed legalization program will not legalize 11 million people. The 10 to 20 year ‘path’ to citizenship will not benefit the mostly elderly Filipino caregivers in our base.’ She also stated that they “totally oppose the massive militarization of the border and border communities. The only beneficiaries of this boondoggle are the war and prison contractors whose successful lobbying resulted in a $46 billion set-aside for ‘border security’. This is a sad day for human rights.”
Bill Chandler, Executive Director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance and a longtime labor organizer, expressed concern about the bill’s drive to increase and continue guest worker programs. These, he said are “another form of indentured servitude and a benefit for employers, not workers.”
Board member Janis Rosheuvel, Executive for Racial Justice with United Methodist Women in New York, declared, “As people of faith, we call on our elected officials to end the criminalization of communities of color exemplified by this bill. We call for justice-driven legislation that delves into the root causes of migration and does not rely on punitive policies as a matter of course. Our communities and nation deserve more.”
The National Network pledges, as the immigration reform debate focuses on the House and where hostile representatives have declared their opposition to any form of legalization, to continue the fight for fair and just immigration reform. “We will push back on the mean-spirited, xenophobic and punitive proposals that have already begun to emerge there,” said Tactaquin, adding, “The Obama Administration also needs to shoulder greater responsibility for the well-being and safety of immigrant communities, and break this downward spiral in the direction of immigration reform. We call on the Administration to start by suspending detentions and deportations and keeping families together as we continue on this difficult road to immigration reform.”
The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a nationwide alliance of diverse immigrant community, civil and human rights, labor, faith and other allied sector groups and individuals. NNIRR is committed to human rights as essential to securing healthy, safe and peaceful lives for all.