Thoughts About The “Gang of 8” Immigration Plan

Crossposted on Huffpost

I’m the same-sex partner of a U.S. citizen, a daughter to lawful permanent residents, grand-daughter of a U.S. citizen, a sibling to a U.S. citizen, and so on. I’m about to graduate with a law degree from one of America’s best law schools. Least I forget, for two years now, the Justice Department under President Obama has pursued my deportation, sometimes half-heartedly, while fighting tooth and nail to deny me lawful permanent residence.

Yesterday, the Senate “Gang of 8″ released their long-awaited bipartisan immigration blueprint. I use the word blueprint sparingly, because it is barely one. The first thing that jumped out at most advocates and scholars is that the blueprint is enforcement-heavy, with few sweeteners, and worse than its 2010 and 2007 predecessors.

At first glance, one has to wonder why the Senate blueprint does not include creating a giant moat across the Southwestern border with alligators to discourage all future immigration from Mexico and Latin America. Why stop at drones and increasing the presence of border agents?

After all the enforcement-heavy, militarize the border, put a GPS on everyone entering and exiting the country, the Senate un-surprises us with the infamous “go back to the end of the line” doctrine. What line?There is no line for the majority of undocumented immigrants. Even if all undocumented immigrants go back to their own countries, most of them cannot come here legally due to the unlawful presence 3/10 year bans — enforcement solutions, which have ironically, created a substantial class of undocumented immigrants. The few who are lucky enough to have access to a line (through a family member or employment sponsorship) get bounced from one line to another, quite arbitrarily. I’ve been in the F-3 line, F-2B line, F-4 line, and soon, I’ll join the ranks of the F-1 line.

I don’t have it as bad as most people. A Filipino U.S. citizen has to wait at least 22 years to be reunited with their own son or daughter. A skilled worker from India under the EB-3 category applying for a visa today would need to wait over 70 years to immigrate legally. And the Mexican son or daughter of a lawful permanent resident would need 115 years to immigrate legally in the F-2B category. These atrocious wait-times encourage people to “cut the line” and live in the U.S. without papers. Thus far, the Senate blueprint has no proposal for addressing the long queue and backlogs for existing immigrant visas (not to forget NAFTA, and other economic crises created by the U.S. government), which risks perpetuating the problem of illegal immigration in the future. That is, if you think illegal immigration is a “problem” and most Americans do unless they need a gardener, landscaper, janitor, fruit-grower, nanny, and so on.

Change takes courage. But it also takes common-sense. And the blueprint is non-sensical, primarily because it does not work. The Senate is not providing a pathway to citizenship undocumented immigrants — it is kicking the issue of citizenship for undocumented immigrants for another day. By predicating “green cards for lawful probationary immigrants” on “securing the border,” the Senate bipartisan deal effectively holds undocumented immigrants hostage to the likes of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, and other Southwestern governors who will never agree that the border is secure. In fact, the U.S. border is more “secure” than ever, whatever that means.

(What they mean by “secure the border” is that less brown people are coming in because heaven forbid this country may just turn brown sooner).

Additionally, the blueprint glosses over the most punitive and problematic parts of the immigration system. The Senate plan fails to address the growing problem of long-term lawful permanent residents who are subject to deportation for minor crimes. Moreover, the blueprint does not modify the prolonged mandatory detention of non-citizens, which makes the immigration system must more punitive than the criminal justice system. The blueprint also fails to address Secure Communities — a misnomer of a policy that subjects immigrants to detention and deportation pre-conviction, violating the fundamental American concept of due process. Finally, the omission of legislation to resolve the issue of 40,000 same-sex binational couples who are forced to live apart, altogether, has much of the immigrant and LGBT communities up in arms.

Democrats won the election by riding on the Latino vote, and the president specifically, won reelection on the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program. It is time for them to grow a spine and craft an immigration policy that does not focus predominantly on keeping “Mexicans” out of the country.

P.S. See my list of CIR principles here. You don’t need to be a senator to write a blueprint.

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