Schumer-Graham Announce Wrong Way to Deal With Immigration Reform

Immigrant rights advocates are still waiting for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to turn in his homework, overdue since Labor Day 2009. However, given the preview, it looks like the homework would be tough to grade with a “pass.”

In a Washington Post op-ed, Senator Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced their bipartisan blueprint for comprehensive immigration reform, as the “right way to mend immigration reform.”

I can at least endorse that headline. Their plan is well on the “right” side of the political spectrum in terms of how it plans to provide fixes for the broken immigration system, but quite wrong when it comes to upholding our civil liberties and rights.

While there is still no CIR legislation, Schumer and Graham reveled in their four pillars: “requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.”

It looks like Congress and the White House have learned nothing from the ongoing health care reform fight. The way to deal with an issue like immigration is to introduce the most progressive bill that passes the “laugh test” and then start compromising. Compromising from the very beginning spells disaster.

At least the Gutierrez immigration bill, while still flawed, was better than this. One can only wonder what inspired Schumer and Graham to think that immigrants and even American-born citizens could get excited about this plan. While some D.C.-based immigration advocates are singing praises, progressive bloggers such as Culture Kitchen are raising their eyebrows, breaking down how the four pillars advanced by Schumer and Graham bear some resemblance to the four pillars (Civic Engagement, Policy & Advocacy, Field & Organizing and Communications) of Reform Immigration for America.

The op-ed also creates a false dichotomy between legal and illegal immigration. Part of why many consider the immigration system broken is because immigration status is so fluid (much like sexuality): many immigrants were perfectly legal before they applied for citizenship, most legal immigrants in a state like California were undocumented at one time, and many more do not even have a pathway to citizenship, so calling people “illegal” without granting them due process rights makes little sense. Actually, that ought to be illegal.

But Schumer and Graham insist on using a discourse that criminalizes the undocumented, stripping them of due process rights, and cherry-topping it with a call for a National ID card that threatens the privacy rights of all Americans. If such is the preview of the bill, advocates must push hard in another direction.

President Obama endorsed the blueprint with much praise for Senator Schumer. Really? It is the same well-known three-legged stool we have been hearing about for years now. After compromising on health care reform, it would be interesting to see where groups draw the line: violations of civil liberties, draconian enforcement provisions, criminalizing undocumented immigrants, establishing a new exploitative guest-worker program without a pathway to citizenship, a points-based system that does not favor family unity or maybe something else.

If this is the only way to pass a comprehensive immigration plan, we must choose to preserve our integrity and pivot in another direction. There is a world of difference between a plan that is “not good” compared to a plan that is “not perfect.” Immigrant rights advocates will be hard-pressed to ignore these differences at their own peril and at the expense of immigrant rights.

Photo Credit: boondockphotography

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