On Monday June 24, the Senate passed by a 67 to 27 vote a decision to let the Senate's main immigration reform bill, S 744, continue toward a vote in the full Senate. This vote involved the acceptance of a repressive amendment designed to bring more Republicans on board the overall bill, but is seen as a negative addition by immigrants' rights and labor groups.
The amendment offered by Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota would prevent any of the immigrants legalized under S 744 from achieving permanent legal resident status (and thus eligibility for citizenship) until certain requirements are met. These include a "border surge" which would double the number of border patrol agents on the southern border of the United States (to 40,000), an obligatory implementation of e-Verify by all employers and greatly increased surveillance of the border, including from the air. In addition there would be a way of catching up with people who overstay visas and the existing fencing on the border would have to be greatly increased, to 700 miles.
Until these things are accomplished and certified by the government, undocumented immigrants trying to legalize themselves will not be able to pass from the first state as Registered Provisional Immigrants to Permanent Residents eventually eligible for citizenship by naturalization.
The only positive item added is a new youth jobs program with a budget of $1.5 billion over two years, but considering the scale of youth unemployment in this country, this is small potatoes.
All this is going to sock U.S. taxpayers for $40 billion at the least. And it will not work in its stated objective of "stopping illegal immigration," as desperate people will find ways of coming. Nor does it address the main reasons that people come to the United States without papers, which are:
*The severe disruption of the economies of poorer countries by trade practices of wealthier countries, and specific trade arrangements such as NAFTA and CAFTA-DR, with more to come.
*The fact that the United States does not give legal immigration visas to poor people who are displaced by the corporate globalization our political and economic leaders are so avid in promoting.
Furthermore, the government will have to confiscate Social Security and Medicare payments made by undocumented immigrants and their employers. Under present law, those few undocumented immigrants who manage to legalize themselves may be able to get credit for such payments. To take away those payments will condemn many immigrants to extreme poverty in old age.
The decision to incorporate the Corker-Hoeven amendment in the legislation was based on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's desire to get 70 votes for S 744 and to pass it before the Senate breaks for its 4th of July recess. Reid only needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, thinks a super-majority in the Senate will help push legislation in the House. There are still a few amendments to be considered before this can happen, but the acceptance of the Corker-Hoeven amendment by many GOP senators is thought to avoid the possibility that they will jam up the bill by insisting that undocumented immigrants not be able to attain even the "Registered Provisional Immigrant" stage until the border is "sealed."
Organizations that support progressive immigration reform were highly critical of the amendments.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights wrote, "at a time when the budget sequester has had forced significant across-the-board cuts in federal programs, the 'border surge' called for by Corker-Hoeven would present a tremendous setback in [the] legislative process..." Nevertheless, the organization called for continued support for passage of S 744 anyway, citing the need to legalize as many undocumented people as possible.
Many people along the border were furious called for defeat of the amendments, and in some cases even the overall bill. The Arizona Daily Star reported that activists from the Border Action Network and No More Deaths and other groups have denounced the "border surge" as sure to create more suffering and death at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, sharply criticized the Corker-Hoeven amendment while also stating that the federation still supports the overall bill. "Building a commonsense immigration system that will allow millions of aspiring Americans to become citizens is a top priority for the labor movement in 2013. The Senate immigration bill represents an important step in building such a system-even though it has become less inclusive, less compassionate and less just since it emerged in April as the Gang of Eight's bipartisan compromise.
"Republicans have exacted a high price for moving this necessary legislation forward. The latest price for Republican support is the establishment of triggers to citizenship that, as Senator Leahy noted, read like 'a Christmas list for Halliburton'" (i.e. because of all the contracts companies like Halliburton will reap in the context of the "border surge").
However, Trumka urged continued support for S 744 because "we expect that we will be better off with the bill than with the continuing, catastrophic deportation crisis that is wrecking workforces, families and communities across our country. At the same time, we renew our call for President Obama to ease this crisis by stopping the deportation of those who would qualify for relief under this bill."
Photo: Jonathan McIntosh (CC)