What does “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” Mean?

There is a lot of talk for bringing back the dead “comprehensive immigration reform” now that President Obama has won re-election and slain the immigrant-hating tea-party dragon. Of course, the enthusiasm is amusing given the President’s own dismal immigration rights record — record-high deportations, presiding over the war on immigrants through massive expansion of Secure Communities, and a booming migrant-private prison industrial complex. Except for some administrative memos on “deferred action for childhood arrivals” – a stay on deportation for certain young undocumented immigrants, the President did nothing for immigration in his first term.

And yet, one can hardly ignore the enthusiasm for change, especially since the Republicans are hungry to win back Latino voters (and somehow they think supporting immigration reform is all they need to do in a country undergoing extraordinary demographic change).

Most people throw out the words “comprehensive immigration reform” without really knowing or explaining what that means. We know from past Congressional proposals that it looks terrible, with a 90% enforcement agenda. We also know from current talks that the politicos are not interested in putting forward a human-rights first agenda.

If you are looking for a place to start, you start on the offensive, you start on the Left. I suggest people think about these principles, which were drafted by the team at The Sanctuary several years ago, and which I have tweaked for slight updates.

1. Secure the borders by first ensuring that the vast majority of intending migrants have the ability and opportunity to legally enter the country through legal ports of entry by increasing the availability and equitable distribution of green cards. This would curtail the flow of migration through illegal channels. Only after that, should enforcement begin to ensure compliance, or any work to physically secure the border take place.
2. Address the root causes of migration, and change US policy so that it doesn’t foster and produce conditions that force hundreds of thousands of people each year to leave their countries of origin in order to simply survive. This includes changing current trade policies, military policies, and foreign aid agreements to not only bolster workers rights here and abroad, but also to their ability to foster economic progress and social justice for the working class and poor in sender nations.
3. Formulate a reasonable, humane, fair and practical method for determining the levels of immigration going forward. Establish an independent commission free from the pressures of political expediency and business interests to review all the pertinent data and set admission numbers based on labor, economic, social, and humanitarian needs.
4. Provide a pathway to legalization for all current undocumented migrants living and working in the US, free of restrictions based on country of origin, economic status, education, length of residency, or any other enforcement criteria through “suspension of deportation.”
5. Approach the hiring of workers illegally from the standpoint of labor rights by increasing the focus on enforcement of all labor and employment laws. This includes increasing penalties on employers who engage in unfair or illegal labor practices by undercutting labor and minimum wage laws. Increase funding for government oversight and inspection of workplaces.
6. Foster an immigration policy that strengthens the middle and working class through encouraging unionization, increased naturalization, and immigrant participation in the electoral process.
7. Include the language of the DREAM Act that would allow children and young adults brought here as children, and raised in the US, a conditional path to citizenship in exchange for a mandatory two years in higher education or community service.
8. Include the language of the Uniting American Families Act that would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow not just spouses but permanent partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, including same-sex partners, to obtain permanent residency.
9. Include the language of the AgJobs bill that seeks to relieve chronic farm labor shortages by supplying undocumented migrant agricultural workers a legal opportunity to enter the county and a path to legal status and eventual citizenship. It also bolsters labor rights and protects workers from exploitation.
10. Include the language of the STEM bill to retain highly, educated professionals in the United States.
11. Repeal the sections of the 1996 law that redefined vast numbers of crimes as deportable offense when committed by immigrants. Make punishments of immigration crimes commensurate with comparable crimes in other areas of the law. Eliminate the ominous “crimes involving moral turpitude.” A misdemeanor or civil violation of immigration law should not carry with it a punishment that would be comparable to a felony in a criminal case.
12. Repeal the sections of the 1996 law that imposed the three and ten years bars for unlawful presence.
13. Raise government oversight of detention centers, create alternatives to detention for vulnerable populations, and end mandatory detention of all migrants for immigration violations not related to violent crimes.
14. Make family reunification simpler by expanding the “immediate family” classification to reflect the cultural realities of many non-western or traditional societies.
15. Recognize that deportation is not just a collateral consequence of a crime and reform removal proceedings to create a right to counsel provided at government expense, and restore discretion to Immigration Judges to dismiss cases.
16. End policies and programs that rely upon state and local law enforcement agencies to usurp the role of the federal government and engage in the enforcement of federal immigrations codes.
17. Bring U.S. immigration law in line with international human rights law by reforming asylum and refugee law to eliminate the one-year bar, add gender and sexual orientation as qualifying persecuted groups, strengthen protections for children, crime victims, and victims of human trafficking
18. Modernize and streamline the immigration process and eliminate the backlogs for those already in the queue. Simplify the paperwork process and utilize technology to cut wait times and bureaucratic delays.
19. End, or raise, the per-country cap that favors smaller nations with fewer immigrant applicants over larger developing nations and those countries that have long traditional ties to the US.
20. Update the Registry Date in Sec 249 of the Immigration and Nationality Act to 2002, and impose a statue of limitations on being undocumented in the United States such that any person who has continuously lived in the U.S. for ten years, pays taxes and has “good moral character” should be allowed to apply for permanent residency.

I’ll be posting more on each point in the near future.

CIR 2013. It Gets Better.

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