On April 28, 2010, Senators Schumer, Reid, Durbin, Menendez, Feinstein and Leahy released a 26-page “Conceptual Proposal for Immigration Reform” in order to move the comprehensive immigration reform debate forward. For months, Senators Schumer and Lindsay Graham had worked on a bipartisan bill. This effort stalled in mid-April, and the Democrats decided to go forward after Senators Kyl and McCain released their own proposal.
NETWORK is glad that the issue is beginning to move in the Senate, but believes that the focus of the proposal is not grounded in the reality of our country. The first 18 pages address some forms of security: border security, enforcement and employment. NETWORK sees this focus as “political conversation” for the November elections rather than actual comprehensive immigration reform.
PROPOSAL: Without acknowledging the tremendous increase in the number of boarder patrol agents and others working in border security over the last decade, this proposal calls for an “enforcement first” strategy. The senators propose more border security agents in all categories, along with improved technology including ground sensors (in lieu of a fence) and aerial drones—Department of Defense equipment.
NETWORK’s POSITION: We urge a realistic assessment of current border condition—and not succumbing to the temptation to throw more money at the problem in an election year. We do not have the luxury of just spending money to enhance our ephemeral concept of “security.” Rather, we need to practice “smart security,” where we determine best practices and the most efficient use of valuable tax dollars in creating a realistic border plan. Any new provisions MUST be done in the context of the billions of dollars that have been thrown at the problem over the last decade.
NETWORK strenuously opposes the militarization of the border through the use of Department of Defense equipment and/or personnel. National Guard troops are not trained for border work and should not be deployed for that purpose. Additionally, it is not good policy to give the authority to call up the National Guard to the Secretary of Homeland Security. This needs to be a presidential action.
NETWORK supports the concepts of greater collaboration among the various Departments and greater attention to the actual impact of these policies on the land and the communities along the border. However, the entire focus of this section is wrong because it is not based on the CURRENT reality at the border, but rather the politically driven sound bytes of the election cycle.
PERSONS UNLAWFULLY IN THE U.S.
PROPOSAL: The senators propose “zero tolerance” for undocumented entry or overstay in the U.S. and would create a new crime for this purpose. They would create an effective entry-exit program that would track who is in the United States and when they leave, along with a realistic follow-up. There is high reliance on biometric data from each individual. When persons are detained, they would need to be held near where they were apprehended and no disposition could be determined until the fate of non-detained minor children is addressed.
NETWORK’s POSITION: An effective entry-exit tracking program can be a good program to create clarity about who is in our country. However, we are concerned that unless we realistically address the issue of future immigration and realistic quota numbers, as well as the factors that cause people to leave their nations, this “zero tolerance” will be little more than words for the campaign trail. NETWORK DOES support provisions that would keep detained people near their families and allow immigration judges to consider the impact on minor children when determining disposition of a detainee’s case.
ENDING ILLEGAL EMPLOYMENT
PROPOSAL: The senators propose new Social Security cards for everyone in the U.S. that would include biometric data for everyone. This card would be used to verify eligibility for employment. Employers who did not either use the card or check on employees would be subject to increased penalties and fines.
NETWORK’s POSTION: As much as we would like to think that technology can answer all of our problems, we know only too well that it will not. Citizens will lose their cards and then not be able to replace them because of cost and/or complexity of the process. There will be mistakes, and low wage workers will be penalized especially because they are least likely to be accurately recorded in the system. Employers in jobs where there is high turnover will have additional financial burdens in clearing applicants. NETWORK does not believe that this is a workable proposal. It also is quite invasive in all of our lives. Is the cost to more than 309 million people in the U.S, worth it to keep 10 million (3%) from getting low-wage or day labor jobs?
REFORMING AMERICA’S IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
PROPOSAL: In five pages, the proposal sets out reforms to the temporary worker and permanent worker provisions.
NETWORK's POSITION: NETWORK supports the provisions in this section, including:
- Provision of a flexible framework for addressing needed workers in the future through a mix of temporary and permanent worker petitions
- A new category of H-2C workers who could come temporarily (for a maximum of 6 years) but could then change to a permanent resident applicant
- An eight-year period to clear the “family backlog” of approved pending family petitions
- Redefining spouses and children of lawful permanent residents as “immediate relatives” so that they would no longer have to wait long periods for family reunification
- By inference, maintaining all of the existing family categories.
NETWORK does have a concern that maintaining the existing family numerical system after the backlog is “cleared” is unrealistic for our future needs as a nation and urges that there be a commission established to review the numerical categories for families and recommend changes to Congress based on the actual needs of the country and the immigrant families over time.
PROPOSAL: There is a comprehensive proposal for the registration of those undocumented people currently in the U.S. at the time that the legislation is introduced and continuously residing here until registration. Prompt registration and screening of undocumented people would lead to their receiving Lawful Prospective Immigrant (LPI) status. Once a person has this status, he/she can work in the U.S. and travel outside of U.S. Additionally, their spouse or minor children outside the U.S. could be reunited with them after the security checks are passed. After eight years in LPI Status, the immigrant could petition for permanent residence that could eventually lead to citizenship.
NETWORK's POSITION: NETWORK supports this streamlined framework for regularization of status for people without documents currently in our country. It sets up reasonable criteria for integration into our economy and society. The level of fines, penalties and taxes are left unspecified. It is important that these financial obligations be kept at realistic levels in order to encourage participation in the registration program.
NETWORK is grateful that at last there is a framework for the Senate to consider as we move the Comprehensive Immigration Reform debate forward. We do not believe that this proposal is built on a sound premise because it does not acknowledge the immense amount that has already been done to strengthen border security. This needs to be changed.
However, NETWORK does applaud provisions of the framework that deal with the future need for workers (both permanent and temporary), family reunification and addressing the needs of the undocumented people in our country. These are sound provisions that can well serve our country as we try to adjust our immigration policy to be effective in the 21 st century.