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Immigration Reform Would Boost Business, Undermine Rights

7:57 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Originally posted at In These Times

Santiago Armengod /

After years of Congressional silence on immigration, Washington is finally stirring toward legislative reform, driven by Democrats and Republicans angling for Latino and Asian votes. But the plans being concocted have already sharply diverged from the demands of the grassroots immigrant-rights movement.

So far, the White House and a bipartisan group of Senators have each floated similar outlines for reform that include a process for legalization or citizenship, recruitment of foreign-born workers into select industries, and strict “border security” measures. The details of leaked White House draft plan, prepared as a “back up” to the congressional proposals, were reported by USA Today this weekend. Despite criticism from conservatives, the draft also emphasizes stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

Though the various efforts all aim to fashion a “comprehensive” reform package, any resulting legislation will likely be anything but: While lawmakers squabble over how broad or narrow to make the legalization process, activists fear Congress may simply erect a bureaucratic dam in place of a broken border wall, let corporations control the floodgates, and still exclude millions of immigrants.

The best and brightest?

Both President Obama and the Senate group endorse special visa programs for specific sectors that, not coincidentally, wield lobbying influence. The agricultural industry pushed for, and got, promises of visas for migrant farmworkers. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Silicon Valley moguls successfully advocated visas for science and technology professionals. Such limited visas are usually called “guestworker” programs, although the Washington proposals shy away from the controversial term.

According to talking points emerging from the White House and the Senate group, another special channel of relief may be opened for undocumented youth, following high-profile, media-savvy mobilizations to support the DREAM Act, which would legalize undocumented students. (In response to continued stagnation on the legislation in Congress, Obama issued ascaled-down administrative directive in August to defer deportations for DREAM-eligible youth).

But many lower-profile migrants have virtually no voice on the Hill. Undocumented women laboring as domestic workers in private homes, or day laborers and dishwashers paid under the table, are no less in need of relief. But under the proposals in play, they can only hope for a more limited legalization process, which might impose deep financial penalties and drag on for years (some estimates suggest up to several million could be disqualified by barriers such as minor past convictions or English-language requirements). Moreover, it’s unclear how far “comprehensive” reforms would go toward ensuring enforcement of labor protections for all—citizen and non, with or without papers—which labor activists see as a crucial step toward building a truly fair, inclusive workforce.

Border security, human insecurity

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Beyond May Day, Frustrated Immigrant Movement Forges Ahead

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

May Day rally in San Francisco (courtesy Patricia Jackson, via IndyBay)

The waves of protests and rallies on May Day 2012 had barely cleared out when police happened upon more than 100 undocumented immigrants locked in isolated houses near the Texas border. After being trapped for days deprived of food and water, they were turned over to the border patrol. May First is supposed to be a day to remember the struggles of labor and the poor, but these migrants were forgotten, like so many of the border’s economic refugees.

May Day has historically had a pro-migrant message, from its origins in 19th-century working-class Chicago, to its revival in 2006 as a day of protest for immigration reform. But this year, even with the added momentum of Occupy Wall Street, the pro-immigrant mobilizations were relatively modest, according to advocates, though the struggles facing immigrants are growing more dire.

While the Occupy banner blanketed much of May Day, demonstrations in several U.S. cities incorporated immigrant rights groups, including protests against Arizona’s draconian immigration law SB 1070, currently under review by the Supreme Court, and the Obama administration’s sweeping deportation policies. New York City’s May Day Solidarity Coalition brought together groups that link labor, immigration, and economic justice, like the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United.

But immigration issues weren’t highlighted as they were in May Day 2006–possibly a reflection of activist fatigue that’s sunk in after so many years of stonewalling by politicians. And tactically, it might be hard to wrap the purposefully amorphous Occupy ethos around the everyday struggles of immigrants who live in perpetual fear of being ripped apart from their families and deported. Occupy’s focus on direct action and building alternative political communities might not resonate with immigrants who are frightened to even venture outside their homes.

Catherine Tactaquin, executive director of National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights told In These Times that some of the challenges stemmed from legal obstacles that could impede many immigrant activists: Read the rest of this entry →

Immigrant Scapegoating: Not Just an American Pastime

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from

Around the world, as long as people keep moving, politicians will continue to talk breathlessly about the immigration “crisis.” It’s a campaign trail standard in the U.S., but in Britain and Western Europe as well, political figures waste no opportunity to project voters’ deepest fears and wildest misperceptions onto whatever group of newcomers is most visible—whether they’re Egyptian, Roma or Polish.

Here in the U.S., all the GOP presidential hopefuls are racing to brandish their nativist street cred. But Mitt Romney has pulled ahead in the meme-fest coming out of South Carolina’s primary. Despite his own immigrant lineage (due to his Mormon missionary roots), Romney has checked off all the boxes: supporting E-Verify, promising to beef up border security, and smacking down the DREAM Act for undocumented students. Appealing to law-and-order types, Romney touts the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who helped craft Arizona’s SB1070 law. (South Carolina, too, boasts an SB1070 copycat bill.)

Not to be outdone, Rick Santorum has argued that once you’ve crossed the border illegally, regardless of what you do or the family you raise thereafter, “everything you’re doing while you’re here is against the law.”

The resurgent Newt Gingrich has touted a relatively “humane” reform plan based on a vaguely defined screening process that might legalize “about 1 million” undocumented immigrants. Though the plan would expel roughly “7 or 8 or 9 million” to their home countries before they can apply to return, even this proposal was immediately decried by rivals as “amnesty.”

But immigrant-bashing isn’t just an American pastime. Although Europe’s far-right movements have generally laid low since Anders Breivik’s murderous rampage against “multiculturalism” in Norway, the hard right remains a vocal minority in several countries.

France—the country the GOP vilifies as a bastion of wine-swilling egalitarian liberals—has stepped up deportations, according to the Washington Post. President Nicolas Sarkozy, himself a descendant of immigrants, has pushed for more deportations as he approaches a tough election. Squeezing the president even further to the right is the hardline National Front party, trumpeting a fiercely anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform. Read the rest of this entry →

States’ Anti-Immigrant Bills Expand the Law-Free Zone

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

A scene from an immigrant rights rally on May Day 2006.

In tough economic times, life can be hard for employers in America’s low-wage sectors. Especially when it comes to complying with labor law. Fortunately, the government ensures that there’s always at least one group of workers for whom standards pretty much never apply. They’re called, fittingly, “undocumented.”

This year, several states have rolled out legislation to make the undocumented even more illegal. Bills in Alabama, Georgia and Indiana, modeled roughly after Arizona’s controversial racial profiling law, reflect the boilerplate lock’em up talking points: enabling profiling by police, criminalizing the mere appearance of an unauthorized immigrant as well as those who provide aid to them, and tightening restrictions on hiring. Although lawsuits have halted the implementation of these policies in some states, key court decisions have left intact provisions that deepen the divide between those with and without papers, relegating the undocumented—who work American farms, build American homes, and raise American children—to a law-free zone.

A Georgia court recently blocked the “papers please” provision of the state’s anti-immigrant bill on the grounds that using I.D.-checks to root out immigration violations would lead to an “end-run – not around federal criminal law – but around federal statutes defining the role of state and local officers in immigration enforcement.” So the state overstepped its bounds by criminalizing a federal civil offense.

At the same time, the court left intact a provision that would expand the use of a draconian I.D. screening system known as E-Verify. This is the Social Security Number-based data gauntlet that Washington has been haltingly trying to impose on employers and state governments for years (Congressional Republicans are pushing a bill to mandate the system nationwide, but it is currently used on a “volunteer” basis).

Notorious for major data errors and glitches Read the rest of this entry →