Friday, February 8, 2013

Immigration and Amnesty

Link to today's blog post in HuffPost Voces Latino:

and the English version:

Immigration and Amnesty

One of the more contentious issues to be dealt with in the upcoming policy debates over comprehensive immigration reform will be legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the country. President Obama has already taken some steps to at least partially address the issue, offering “deferred action” for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, and more recently tweaking rules for undocumented immigrants who return to their home country for visas, allowing them to return immediately if they have citizens in their family, rather than have to face a 10 year waiting period.

The last time the United States had a large-scale amnesty for undocumented immigrants was with the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). At that time, immigration reform was being propelled by concerns about undocumented immigrants that had begun during the Carter administration in the late 1970s. In 1977 President Carter submitted a proposal to Congress that called for employer sanctions, an increase in border patrol agents, and legalization for unauthorized immigrants.  Congress didn’t take up the bill at the time, and it would take recommendations from the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy to get Congress to introduce legislation in 1982 as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act.  There was resistance to the bill from all sides.  Immigrant advocates feared employer sanctions would lead to discrimination against Hispanic workers.  Business interests were against strong employer sanctions. Unions thought a guestworker program would undermine employee protections. Compromises were made and IRCA finally passed in 1986.  Implementation was a mixed bag, particularly in the area of employer sanctions.

What can this history tell us about today’s push for comprehensive immigration reform?  Passage of this type of legislation can take time.  At this point, we only have proposals, and it is likely that the Senate and/or the House will introduce legislation in the next month or two. Various interests have already begun to encourage their bases to contact legislators, either in support of or against the potential legislation.  In the end, if something does pass, it is likely to be a compromise. What will happen to legalization in this kind of scenario?  Senator Marco Rubio is already finding it hard to sell the idea of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to his Senate Republican colleagues who consider it an “amnesty.” Many House members are also critical of the proposal put forward by Rubio and the Senate “gang of eight.”

Immigration advocates are going to have to fight very hard to keep a path to citizenship in any comprehensive immigration reform package. The current Senate proposal already throws hurdles in the way by requiring a commission of lawmakers and community leaders to certify that the border is secure before those who are given probationary status can apply for permanent legal status.  However, the ultimate passage of the 1986 act led to legalization for nearly 3 million – the impact on those people and families is incalculable.  The stakes are high, and it will take ongoing public pressure to get a result which recognizes the human cost of failure.

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