Immigration bill buried; lessons and questions

By Tram Nguyen Jun 28, 2007

Today the Senate bill died, after failing the cloture vote needed to cut off debate and move toward passage. This effectively means that immigration reform legislation is buried this year. Those of us watching the debate and working toward comprehensive reform have ridden a political roller coaster this month as the legislative process lurched back and forth between pushing through and falling apart. The situation has been extraordinarily difficult, requiring a high level of sophistication, focus and unity from the immigrant rights movement. As many immigrant leaders said, inaction from Congress was an unacceptable alternative for our communities. This meant that we had to work a strategy on the Hill, while keeping a focus on the ground. But the process surfaced many divisions, and begs a better analysis of how we will assess the political terrain and make decisions as a movement for immigrant rights in the future. Immigration will continue to be one of the most important issues this country faces for a long time to come, and we need a clearer understanding of what interests, goals, and realities will come into play at the next stage. Driven by a clearly corporate agenda, along with restrictionist aims, the attempted Senate Grand Bargain this time drove the debate toward an excruciating choice. For the millions of undocumented present in the country, it offered long and difficult hurdles but nevertheless a path to legalization. For the rest, it called for the scrapping of family visas in favor of an elitist point system tilted toward rich, skilled applicants; an expanded guestworker system; and the requisite expansion of detention beds, border agents and militarization. It’s clear that the enforcement and guestworker issues will remain part of the immigration debate for the forseeable future, and we must tackle it through increased media exposure, bottom up organizing, and expanding the coalition of allies. Immigration detention is the nation’s fastest growing form of incarceration, as the New York Times reported in a recent investigation and editorial about the growing number of people who have disappeared into or even died inside the ever expanding detention system. The guestworker program, as we’ve already seen in the Gulf Coast, is a recipe for disaster. Workers imported from Mexico have been held captive in hotels; others from Bolivia were sold from one employer to the next for a few thousand dollars. "The guestworkers of the Gulf Coast who arrived after Katrina can testify to the fact that the guestworker program is a human rights disaster," said Saket Soni of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. "It’s fundamentally exploitative and no amount of retooling will change that." Millions of families suffering under the current policies need legalization. It’s our moral and political challenge to protect families while not accepting a tradeoff that changes the immigration system for the worse.