Senate Debates on Immigration Bill Start Today

By The News May 21, 2007

(What we hope won’t be the case with the immigration bill.) Supporters of the controversial bi-partisan immigration bill hope the Senate will make headway on the legislation by Memorial Day next Monday. The bill, which president Bush backs but is contested by activists and government officials from all sides, promises a road to legalization for America’s 12 million illegal immigrants and also, a heightened temporary guest-worker program. But some top voices in Congress, including Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, say the bill will need a lot more time, the New York Times reported. Not so surprisingly, many progressive immigration activists and employers who count on cheap immigrant labor agree– though these groups’ reasons for doing so differ. A Washington Post article today reported:

There is little doubt about how grass-roots organizations feel about a bipartisan immigration compromise reached in the Senate: They don’t like it. The New York Immigration Coalition issued a statement that called the proposal unacceptable, saying, "We say no to this deal." In California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund vowed to oppose numerous provisions in the plan. In Massachusetts, an immigrant and refugee advocacy coalition said the deal was "immoral, unworkable and unacceptable."

While believing the government should build a pathway to legalization for immigrants, many activists questions the bill’s conditions for citizenship which will depend on an immigrant’s ability to go back home to apply for a green card; her education, English fluency, and decreasingly, her family ties in the States. The post continued:

Under the proposal, an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the country illegally would be eligible for legal status if they work hard, obey the law and go back to their countries of origin with the assurance that they could return. A guest-worker program would allow 400,000 new foreign nationals each year to work temporarily in the United States, but they would have no path to citizenship. A provision that allows new U.S. citizens to sponsor relatives would be changed. A complicated point system would be instituted that rewards skilled workers who have more education and an ability to speak English. The higher the total, the more likely they would be able to bring in their family members.

In pursuit of the model immigrant, the bill will also create a permanent under class of low-wage laborers that employers opposing the bill say they’ll have to document under the bill’s bylaws. The New York Times reported:

Employers, who helped shape a major immigration bill over the last three months, said today that they were unhappy with the result because it would not cure the severe labor shortages they foresee in the coming decade. In addition, employers expressed alarm as they learned that the Senate bill would require them to check a government database to verify that all current and former employees — aliens and citizens alike — are eligible to work in the United States.

Whereas the Senate is looking for a magic bullet, the people on the ground see there is none.