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Immigration Reform: Calling all Battle Stations

Frontera Nortesur, News Digest, Staff Posted: Mar 22, 2010

As the health insurance battle roared to a climax on Capitol Hill, new legislation over long-delayed immigration reform could be the spark for the next testy political battle in the United States. Initially backed by President Obama, a blueprint for a bill unveiled last week by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) could become the center of fresh controversy.

On the eve of the March 21 pro-immigration reform rally in Washington attended by tens of thousands of people, the Oakland-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights expressed concern over the general provisions outlined by the two senators.

Schumer-Graham, the Network cautioned, would extend and deepen harsh enforcement practices that have caused trauma and separation for immigration families, fostered racial profiling and led to tragic deaths at the US-Mexico border for migrants seeking a better life.

As presented, the Schumer-Graham framework emphasizes more border security, a guest worker program, the expansion of the controversial E-Verify employment eligibility system, the introduction of a biometric Social Security card, and a tough but fair path to legalization for undocumented residents.

While conceding the Schumer-Graham blueprint is still vague and without any many details, the Network nevertheless questioned the proposals accent on border security, workplace enforcement and visas for the best and brightest immigrants.

The blueprints preference for highly-skilled immigrants, the Network contended, would encourage the brain drain from migrant-sending nations while simultaneously cultivating a class of temporary, lesser-skilled workers who could be easily exploited in sectors of the US economy demanding low-wage labor.

Other immigrant advocates also weighed in on Schumer-Graham.

Separately, the Washington-based Reform Immigration FOR America and Americas Voice organizations greeted the senators blueprint, but both groups stressed that any immigration reform must include a pathway to legalization, protection of family unity and opportunities for the creation of millions of new taxpayers.

Introduced last December, a comprehensive immigration reform bill sponsored by Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois awaits action in the House. While likewise addressing border security and law enforcement, the Gutierrez legislation prohibits the creation of a national ID card, reforms existing guest worker programs and creates a number of steps employers must fulfill before hiring foreign-born labor.

It also includes a pathway to legalization with a fine.

Quickly responding to Schumer-Graham, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the blueprints endorsement of a new and expensive electronic employment verification system. According to the ACLU, the senators proposal for biometric worker identification is a thinly-disguised attempt to implement a national ID.

It is unacceptable to force every American worker to be fingerprinted in order to work, said the ACLUs Christopher Calabrese.

In New York, meanwhile, members of the pro-immigrant May 1 Coalition, a pro-immigrant rights organization, staged a demonstration outside Senator Schumers office on Saturday, March 20, blasting the senators legislative outline for casting immigrants as terrorists and criminals.

On the other side of the political aisle, opponents of legalization are stepping up their lobbying and organizing campaigns.

On March 20, supporters of Numbers USA visited Congressional offices to deliver a letter that urged elected representatives to oppose a comprehensive amnesty which would devastate 25 million unemployed and underemployed Americans.

In its letter, Numbers USA also backed electronic verification of employment eligibility, and appealed on lawmakers to support the SAVE Act, a piece of legislation sponsored by Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) that proposes additional immigrant detention centers, among other provisions.

Nationwide, the Tea Party against Amnesty movement plans rallies from April 15 to 17 in California, Arizona, Florida and other states.

While immigration politics revisited Washington, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) vowed to return to the Arizona-Mexico border this week to help Border Patrol agents apprehend undocumented crossers.

In a March 16 statement signed by Carmen Mercer, Tombstone restaurateur and MCDC president, the group called on its supporters to come to the border armed with long guns and outfitted with supplies for a long stay.

Directing rhetorical fire at political leaders, the MCDC sharply criticized Arizona Senator John McCain, President Obama and Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano for supposedly not protecting the US border.

This March we return to the border locked, loaded and ready to stop each and every individual we encounter along the frontier that is now more dangerous than Afghanistan, the MCDC said.

The MCDCs announcement of its upcoming border deployment coincided with other events in Arizona, including last weeks law enforcement operation aimed at undocumented immigrants. Launched by the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office, more than 400 law enforcement personnel and posse members used helicopters and air patrols to help round up 47 undocumented persons on assorted charges in the Phoenix area, according to a March 19 statement by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, On the political front, the Arizona House of Representatives is considering legislation that would make it a criminal offense for an undocumented person to be in the state.

Nationally, the March for America demonstration in Washington, the largest pro-immigration reform demonstration in the US since the mass mobilizations of 2006, turned up the heat on politicians.

Demanding legalization for undocumented workers and the defense of family unity, demonstrators came from New Mexico and more than other 40 states to build support for their cause. Prior to the big March 21 rally, a leader of the Somos un Pueblo organization of Santa Fe, New Mexico, summed up the
mood among immigrants and their supporters.

Congress refusal to tackle immigration reform is taking a toll on our families and the economy, said Somos board member Rosario Dunning.

Deportations increased significantly during the first year of the Obama administration, and we are tired of seeing our families torn apart.

With Congressional elections coming up later in the year, Democrats, who owe a significant part of their 2008 victory to immigrant and ethnic voters, are under increasing pressure to turn campaign pledges into realities.

We need a reform, said Miami resident Emiles Jimenez during the Washington demonstration. If there is no legalization, there will be no reelection in 2012.

President Obama seemed to get the message. Appearing by video at the Washington rally, Obama promised to do everything in my power to get a bipartisan immigration reform bill passed within the year.

But Obamas desires for a bipartisan immigration bill were chilled and perhaps frozen even before they were announced to the multitude in Washington. Shortly before the House passed its health insurance bill on March 21, Senator Graham, the co-sponsor of last weeks new immigration reform blueprint and virtually the only Republican senator to support overhauling the law at this juncture, linked the short-term fate of immigration reform to the pending Congressional action on health care.

The first casualty of the Democratic health care bill will be immigration reform, Graham said. If the health care bill goes through this weekend, that will, in my view, pretty much kill any chance of immigration reform passing the Senate this year.

Across the border in Mexico, the resurfacing of the immigration debate in US politics is stirring renewed interest in the issue. In a column, veteran politician and lawmaker Porfirio Munoz Ledo observed that the prospects for a politically difficult immigration reform come after the crash of the Washington Consensus, or the system of unfettered free market economics that shaped migratory patterns and other relations between the US and Mexico for the past several decades.

Washington and Mexico City, Munoz wrote, are trapped in a failed paradigm without any immediate alternative. Wrote Munoz: There is difficulty in recognizing that the free trade agreement was the privileged instrument of the Consensus, which has vanished, and because of this we are obligated to
find different bases for the bilateral relationship and regional methods for combating the problems.

Additional sources: NPR, March 21, 2010. CNN, March 21, 2010. Frontera/SUN, March 21, 2010. El Universal, March 20 and 21, 2010.Articles by Porfirio Munoz Ledo and Notimex. Latimes.com, March 21, 2010. Article by Clement Tan and Don Lee. Reuters, March 21, 2010. Article by Nancy Waitz and editorial staff. La Jornada, March 19, 2010. Semanario (Albuquerque), March 18, 2010. KUNM-FM (Albuquerque), March 18, 2010. El Diario de Juarez, March 12, 2010. Againstamnesty.org

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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