Yesterday, I spent the day reading an 844-page piece of legislation that promises to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. The big picture is this: the immigration reform bill pulls in two very different directions, as it attempts to codify the country’s troubling understanding of good and bad immigrants.
On the one hand, the bill tries to fix a system that’s done incalculable harm to millions by separating families and leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation. For example, it:
On the other hand, the bill adds more restrictions, more punishment and draws more lines in the sand about who’s welcome and who’s not. For instance, it:
In the end, the bill retains all the trappings of American public policy’s manic relationship to citizenship and migration: the country embraces some and despises others, thinks some immigrants are good immigrants and other immigrants are bad. Perhaps this is a given, but to make these decisions, it’s important to remember that these distinctions and the trades that come with them are not just about political compromise, they’re about who is included in the path to citizenship and who is left behind. About what kind of enforcement is built into the bill and who gets locked up or excluded as a result. And about whether the legal immigration system becomes more or less inclusive. It’s about lives.