On May 26, the U.S. Senate passed S.2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006.
There has been some confusion over this bill, particularly among numerous immigrants who think the Senate bill replaces the hateful Sensenbrenner bill passed by the House last December. The Senate and House bills must now be resolved by a committee from both chambers before it can become law. We urge immigrants and their supporters to be cautious, and in particular to be suspicious of anyone who says they can help undocumented people become legal residents.
FLOC's analysis and position of current immigration legislation can be found at www.floc.com in the Immigrant Rights section.
The ISSUES that will be negotiated by the House-Senate committee include:
Addressing the presence of some 12 million undocumented immigrants will be the major point in negotiations between the House and Senate bills. The Senate bill provides a path to permanent residency and the possibility of citizenship for many undocumented immigrants, but excludes a large proportion of people. In contrast, the most hateful part of the House bill is to make undocumented immigrants and those who provide assistance to them federal aggravated felons, though there are some provisions along these lines in the Senate bill as well. President Bush has rejected an automatic path to citizenship, but has said that undocumented immigrants should be given a chance to earn residency and citizenship. The FLOC position has always been a path to permanent residency for all immigrants who have come to support their families and are making important contributions to local economies and communities. FLOC also calls for reunification of separated families on different sides of a border.
The Senate bill creates a guest-worker program, where people can apply to work in available jobs for three years, renew for another three years, and eventually apply for permanent residency. The House bill includes no provisions for a guest worker program, though some Representatives have indicated this is negotiable. Bush has called for a guest worker program for more than two years, based on a proposal originally drafted by a consortium of businesses that utilize undocumented laborers. FLOC President Baldemar Velásquez has called for all workers in countries bound by "free trade" agreements to have the right to seek jobs in any of those countries. FLOC also calls for full labor rights for all workers.
Both the House and Senate bills call for employer sanctions, though it has been illegal to hire undocumented workers for almost two decades, a law that has generally been ignored. Both bills also mandate an employment verification system, where employers must validate the eligibility of all potential employees' identification number with an electronic national database before hiring. No provisions are included for checking and correcting errors, privacy protections, or database security. Both bills also include provisions for enlisting local police in immigration enforcement, even though most law enforcement organizations have objected to this. The FLOC position is that immigration "enforcement" is largely a false issue, serving mainly to provide government monitoring of all workers.
Both the House and Senate bills mandate the building of a wall on the Mexican border, though the House has called for a longer wall and remote sensors. Both bills also provide for additional Border Patrol agents to the existing 11,300, though the Senate would add some 14,000 more agents. FLOC members and leaders are opposed to militarizing the Mexican border, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in recent years as people seeking opportunities to support their families have been forced to take more dangerous routes across the border.
The debate in both the House or Senate, statements by the Bush administration, and the public debate have all largely ignored the basic question regarding immigration: why are people coming in the first place? FLOC leaders have stated that punishing desperate people for seeking opportunities to support their families and escape oppression, building walls, and other "enforcement" provisions will never stop migration, while U.S. policies such a "free trade" agreements play a major role in the forces driving global migration.
FLOC is concerned that both the House and Senate bills include serious restrictions on basic rights for everyone. Due process rights in particular are at risk, while the hateful Sensenbrenner bill mandates wholesale detention in a large proportion of immigration cases, and denies rights to counsel and judicial review for most undocumented people, including refugees, and while the Senate bill also includes such provisions in some cases. Neither the House nor the Senate bill provides for meaningful enforcement of working rights. Civil rights are also at risk with the debate in Congress, which has encouraged and catered to hate that is directed at non-European immigrants, calls for further militarizing the Mexican border, and the Senate bill blatantly mandating English as a national language. Regardless of stated intentions, such actions project a bias based on a "white" image and promote racial hate, with no recognition of the broad range of values, social practices, medical practices, technologies, and work ethics from all around the world that have contributed to the American society.
We have continually asked who is benefiting from restrictive policies? Whose power is being supported by catering to prejudice and hate? Whose wealth is being increased with billions of dollars delegated to building a border wall?
While we are glad the Senate bill considers legal residency for some undocumented immigrants seeking opportunities to support their families, FLOC leaders find both the Senate and House bills are based largely on the lowest standards of human rights, and the political process beginning has been to compromise towards these lowest standards.
As in all social issues, we are deciding what kind of society will we be?
FLOC's standard is the same as the United States Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the international Declaration of Human Rights, which is largely inspired by the U.S. Bill of Rights and to which the United States was a key author and signer (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html):
everyone is entitled to full human, civil, due process, and working rights
... justice is for all human beings, without exception.
This standard is not negotiable!
* Farm Labor Organizing Committee AFL-CIO