Immigration Bill Arrives, Here’s What We Know Right Now

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 19, 2010

This morning, Senators Schumer and Graham outlined their immigration proposal in a Washington Post op-ed titled “The Right Way to Mend Immigration”. It’s the plan Obama said “should be the basis for moving forward.” So what’s in this proposal? To start, before we get into the details, Schumer and Graham use the word ‘illegal’ 11 times in their op-ed. Calling people ‘illegal’ over and over again is not a great way to message around a bill meant to “mend” anything. In terms of content, they begin by proposing more “enforcement” on the border and in the interior. This will mean more resources funneled into high-tech border "security" that will push those trying to get here into more dangerous terrain and result in more deaths on the border. Then, they’d move to expand “domestic enforcement to better apprehend and deport those commit crimes.” But, as a result of policies already in place to target “criminals” we deported close to 390,000 last year. Most of those rounded up by these enforcement tactics actually had no criminal record at all. More enforcement is bound to drive these numbers up further, tearing more families apart. Next is the sci-fi sounding “biometric Social Security cards.” In the op-ed, Schumer and Graham write:

We would require all U.S. citizens and legal immigrants who want jobs to obtain a high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security card. Each card’s unique biometric identifier would be stored only on the card; no government database would house everyone’s information.…the card would be a high-tech version of the Social Security card that citizens already have.

We don’t really know anything more than this and the potential for civil liberties violations seem endless. Further, it’s not the first time we’ve tried to check up on the immigration status of workers before we hire them. Remember the E-verify system that Obama canned last year? The one that mixed up names, blocked the wrong people from getting jobs and punished workers more than employers for hiring undocumented people? Graham and Schumer propose a temporary worker program for low-skilled immigrants yet to come, and a quick path to get a green card for high skilled workers. This could mean a whole bunch of college and post-grad educated immigrants getting green cards while those who will enter the low-wage economy could be shoved into a highly precarious situation, dependent on economic ebbs and flows and on the whims of employers. We’ll just be reinstituting the existing disparity that currently facilitates legal status for high skilled workers while leaving those at the bottom of the economy without any real security. And what about legalization? For undocumented immigrants already here, the pathway to status is basically this: pay a fine, pay back taxes, admit you broke the law, do some community service and then pass a back ground test. Oh, and you have to speak English. The thing about all this is that undocumented immigrants are among the lowest paid workers in the economy, which also make them some of the workers facing the highest levels of unemployment. And, it also sends the message that being here without papers is the fault of those without papers rather than of a system that’s kept people in the shadows and denied them papers. Charging fines and requiring community service is a little like telling someone who just got hit by a car to take responsibility for bad driving habit of everyone else. Tens of thousands are headed to DC this weekend to march for immigrant rights. They’ll be calling for something that looks very different from this as we move forward.