“Immigration Reform” Clears the Senate

“I mean this is not only sufficient, it is well over-sufficient. We’ll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” (John McCain)
 
“If you can’t be reasonably certain that the border is secure as a condition of legalization, there’s just no way to be sure that millions more won’t follow the illegal immigrants who are already here.” (Mitch McConnell)
 

The Gang of 8’s “immigration bill” passed the US Senate today by a vote of 68-32. To read the full text, click here.

This compromise attempt at “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR)–which began as something of a human rights movement to provide a reasonable pathway to citizenship for the 11-12 million unauthorized migrants in the US–has now become one of the largest “border security” bills in our nation’s history. It will fortify a 700-mile fence between the US and Mexico; double the number of Border Patrol agents on the ground (a group which has already doubled in size between 2002 and 2012); and arm that wall and those agents with some of the more advanced military technologies money can buy.

I am not against compromise. It is a necessary part of any democracy. But all issues have their limits. At some point the compromise process weakens, dilutes, or contradicts the original purpose of a bill that it alters it into something else. Sadly, I think the “border surge” amendment added this week to the bill has done just that.

The price to be paid for a pathway to citizenship and a fuller recognition of the basic human rights of immigrants is an even more militarized border that will negate those same rights for others. The price we are asked to pay is in blood–the blood of the thousands upon thousand of lives that will be lost as a result of our escalating war on the border.

The House is not even currently set to consider the Senate’s bill, waiting instead for its own members to author their own versions. For those of us who are advocates of justice, it is not expected to be an improvement on the Senate’s compromised legislation. And, so, the road ahead is a murky one and the lack of support for this current bill that I and others feel is, largely, insignificant.

The necessary pathway is one that we have to continue to carve out for ourselves and for future generations of immigrants. It is a pathway made clear through mass mobilization, mass action, and heightened political pressure on those we depend on to craft sound legislation.

In a democracy like ours, when the political system does not serve the cause of justice on its own, it is our responsibility to create a context where it has no choice but to bend.

That work is mine and yours.

The Cost of Immigration Reform

News is breaking today that the bipartisan grouping of US Senators known as the “Gang of 8” have negotiated a compromise that is, essentially, buying the needed Republican votes to pass the Senate. (You can read the story here.)

Border_Fence

Photo by Paul Sanchez (source)

The crux of the compromise is what some Senators are referring to as a “border surge”–an intentionally militaristic reference to “the surge” of troops and military resources dedicated to the Iraq War in 2007. This surge is, similarly, a costly waste of human effort. It will reportedly entail the building of another 700 miles of border fence, it includes a relaxing of the e-verify requirements for businesses, and it will double the size of the border patrol.

The Republican Party has chosen to frame the entire debate about comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) around the issue of “border security.” While some continue to object to what they call a policy of “amnesty,” most are towing the party line and making it a debate about border security, from an immigration perspective.

This compromise is a fantastic development. While I object to it—almost to the point of opposing the proposed legislation, even though it provides for an entire list of things that I think are VERY important—I can’t help but appreciate what it makes plain and clear: the private entities who have turned US immigration policy into a profit making machine of billions of dollars have the Republicans in their pocket AND will not allow CIR to pass until they are assured profit from the new system.

In case you haven’t heard the news, net migration from Mexico is at 0% right now. On top of that, the budget of the Border patrol has nearly tripled in that last 10 years. That budgetary explosion has already meant the number of Border Patrol agents on the ground has more than doubled since 2002.

Creating a pathway to citizenship and ending the human rights crisis of the current policy of mass detentions and deportations threatens the industries who have been raking in more than $5 billion dollars from the so-called “immigration crisis.” Acknowledging the non-existence of the “crisis” and handling immigration like a nation concerned about sound, productive policy does the same.

The hundred of millions of dollars key corporations spend on lobbying has been stalling CIR because of this harsh reality. But, by linking CIR to tighter border security, these corporate interests have discovered a way to profit from the new system as well.

If this “compromise” helps CIR legislation pass the Senate and House then it is a sad day for all of us. While that legislation will do a lot of good, it will also be a lasting historical reminder about who truly has the power over this nation’s government.

For the millions of lives who will be adversely affected by this continuing and future war on the border, it will also be a lasting reminder of who bears the real cost when human rights become the eclipsed by the desires of the military industrial complex.