On April 17th, the US Senate released their proposal for landmark immigration reform legislation, titled “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act”.
The introduction of the bill represents a pivotal moment for the immigrant rights movement, and is a serious legislative effort to both legalize millions of workers and their families, and reform an outdated and dysfunctional system. But the proposal is not good enough in ensuring that it is both comprehensive and fair, and reforms a broken system in ways that build democracy and prosperity for all.
Voces de la Frontera and our youth arm Youth Empowered in the Struggle, commit to work with our US senators to ensure that in the amendment process the bill is improved to uphold the following principles:
– A path to citizenship for 11 million: While the bill does provide a path to citizenship to millions, it threatens to exclude 375,000 immigrants by establishing an arbitrary cutoff date of December 31, 2011. If the intent is to bring the maximum number out of the shadows and establish legal avenues, then this date will leave a significant number of people out of status, vulnerable to abuse.
– The waiting period of 13 years for US citizenship is too long. It should be aligned with other categories, such as Ag and Dreamers, to achieve US citizenship in 5 years. Second class status is not an option. Karla De Jesus, a 17 year old DREAMer and member of Youth Empowered in the Struggle, says, “My parents have worked hard at minimum wage jobs, but we would not be allowed to move forward as a family. What can they do for 13 years?”
– Removing unfair barriers to US citizenship. These include making the path to citizenship conditional on border enforcement and the flawed E-verify program. Workers would be required to establish “regular employment” to stay on the path to citizenship, putting an unfair burden on workers who have already been waiting decades for reform, and establishing a vulnerable relationship between employer and worker.
Omar Damien-Ortega, a Voces member who is facing deportation after his immigration status was used against him by Went Bend Mutual Insurance after Damien-Ortega filed a worker’s compensation claim, is concerned about this vulnerability.
“There will be a continuation of exploitation of working people if you give employers too much power,” says Damien-Ortega.
– Elimination of programs such as the so-called “Secure Communities” or the criminalization of future immigrants by treating re-entry charges as a criminal offense, when the individual presents no threat to society, and in fact has meaningful ties and no criminal record.
– Protecting our family-based immigration system: The bill provides important increases in family visas in some categories, such as removing the green card cap for spouses and minors of Lawful Permanent Residents, accelerates the processing of those in the backlog, helps refugees and asylum seekers reunite with family members, and reunites parents, children and Dreamers who were deported or are facing separation. But further reforms are necessary to:
– Not excluding siblings’ ability to petition their brothers and sisters, nor parents’ ability to petition their adult children over 31 years of age
Sofia Anguiano, a Voces member, is the eldest of nine children. Sixteen years ago, she peitioned for her all of her brothers and sisters to come to join her in the US legally. “They said it would take 10 years, but I’ve been waiting for 16 years. It’s my dream to have my siblings by my side.”
– Protecting the diversity visas that allow countries that do not have high numbers of migration to come to the US, and recognizing the rights of bi-national LGBT families to petition permanent partners.
Finally, while the bill would not deport those that qualify, every day 1,100 families go through the trauma of family separation and economic hardship. The President can use his executive authority to immediately protect families that qualify for this reform.