A day in the life, fighting for immigration reform

By Guest Columnist Jun 26, 2007

by Deepa Iyer It’s another day in the immigration reform debate, and in our small office in Washington D.C., we begin yet another round of talks about the prospect of real reform this year for South Asian immigrants, 75% of whom are foreign-born. This week, the Senate revived the immigration bill debate that downward spiraled a couple weeks back. But little about immigration bill S. 1639 has changed. It’s still set to impact all immigrants in the country. The Senate immigration bill contains a legalization provision, but it also will hurt families, workers, and undocumented immigrants. It features an untested merit-based point system to decide who gets green cards; the removal of family sponsorship categories which many families have relied on to be reunited; no meaningful path to citizenship for temporary workers; and the allocation of over $4 billion for interior border and policy enforcement measures. This has us worried at SAALT, the organization where I work, and where we analyze immigration legislation’s affect on South Asian communities. But doing so for the past few years, has been a roller coaster, primarily because of the inconsistent pieces of legislation arising in Congress. First, there were the lows of legislation such as the widely-attacked H.R. 4437 in 2005. This bill included mainly immigration enforcement measures, some that would criminalize undocumented immigrants for being in the country and penalize those who assisted them such as landlords and employers. Immigration rallies in 2006 sparked up in opposition to H.R. 4437 and pushed Congress to back a fair and humane immigration reform bill that included some basic principles, such as the legalization of the 12.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country; a meaningful path to entry and to citizenship for workers; and the elimination of the employment- and family-based visa backlogs. The latest bill is an attempt to reconcile people’s passions on all sides of the issue. So now, this year, we’re seeing fits and spurts of the debate like we haven’t seen in a long time with conservative Republicans demanding bundles be spent on sealing the border and reducing the number of immigrants allowed in each year and Democrats racing to pass landmark policy. So at work, we talk about how we’re going to educate community members about the ramifications of changes in immigration laws. But with the Senate still essentially stalled on the bill, we wonder if our elected officials are foresighted enough to see how this bill will translate years from now. For now, we wait. What will the Senate compromise on and trade off? One thing is sure, this year certainly won’t see the end of our work.