Immigration Reform 2010: Yellow Light for Migrants

By Guest Columnist Nov 19, 2009

By Adebe D.A. For over a decade, 287(g) programs have been put into place to deter “illegal” immigration in the US. This past weekend, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano headed talks at the Center for American Progress about yet another overhaul of migration policy so that undocumented immigration ceases to be a problem once and for all. Napolitano-style immigration reform, however, won’t resolve the continued breaking up of families, destruction of business, and terrorizing of migrant communities. Instead of being preoccupied with the supposed “problem” of immigration and fearful that lax policies will open the floodgates, we should be prepared to address the problem of racism created by the notion of illegality in this debate. Comprehensive immigration reform is just a fancy phrase for narrowing the definition, on a strictly racial basis, of who belongs here. “We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws,” Napolitano said, effectively separating immigrants from what is legal and just. “This is ingrained in our national character and it has helped make America the great nation that it is. But we must modernize our laws for the 21st century so that this vision can endure.” Modernization for DHS will mean putting security – or human rights abuses, whichever you prefer – on fast-forward. Last week, the L.A. Times reported that ICE wrongfully detained two legal immigrant women who were permitted enter the US under the Violence Against Women Act (also known as VAWA). These must be two examples of DHS’ plans to replace “tough policies” (Napolitano’s words) with effective ones. Under the new reform plan, which is scheduled to move through Congress in 2010, 12 million undocumented immigrants will be forced to come forward and register, pay a fine, pay taxes, submit to a criminal background check, and begin learning English. She also boasted of strengthening the E-Verify system – an internet tracking system that ensures the eligibility of new employees so that they don’t “turn illegal” later. Situating immigrants as threats who should either come out with their hands up or go home is offensive, as criminal enforcement continues to be the way DHS attends to the “problem” of “illegal” immigration – but without the use of quotations. Napolitano stated that Americans should be ready to expect another wave of undocumented immigration when the economy rebounds. In her mind, such immigration destroys economies, so more border patrol will mean greater economic prosperity. That’s a message most people want to hear. Too bad it isn’t true. Our economy has always depended upon international – and thus cross-border – economic activities, and immigrants are a primary source of our national wealth. The only “flood” factor we should fear, when it comes to migration, is that it might allow (gasp) for greater capital flow. Instead of obsessing about the technicalities of tracking visas, immigration policy should defend human rights by outlawing the type of ideological discrimination inherent in assessing who is legal and who isn’t. Dehumanizing policies and terms such as “illegal” are what have truly overstayed their terms in this country. photo credit: Center for American ProgressAdebe D.A. is a research intern with the Applied Research Center in New York City.