Immigration reform: America’s new bracero program

by Amaury Nora

America is an idea, a set of beliefs about people and their relationships and the kind of society which holds the best hope of satisfying the needs each of us brings as an individual. The global mobility of human resources between countries is a key driving force of the currently ongoing economic and regional development all over the world. In reality, immigration exerts many positive and important impacts on a country’s economic, cultural and social structure. It will be hard to find any country in the world where immigrants never contribute to the development of a country. However, here in the US, immigration is being called into question by immigration critics who are compelled to exaggerate how the large influx in immigration has contributed to the increase in unemployment and other serious social problems. Some critics even go so far to argue that this country is losing its cultural heritage. And like clockwork, each year, the politicos in DC try to cater to their demands by addressing the problem by trying to create a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

x-posted on Para Justicia y Libertad

After having a secret meeting, key senators from both parties along with the White House reached a compromise on a comprehensive immigration reform bill. What makes this bill interesting is the way it’s being fast tracked through the Senate and how it is being shoved down our throats regardless of our opinions. The current 300+ page piece of legislation was cut and pasted from last year’s failed legislation by Senate staff the weekend before they began their floor debate this week. This time around there were a few twists. One reason it is hard to find detailed analysis of the legislation on the Internet: key sections of the bill continue to be modified throughout the debate on the Senate floor, such as, reducing the number of Y visas from 400,000 to 200,000. As for the nativists’ part of the bill, it is same regurgitation of their xenophobic measures on border security.

George Lakoff was correct on how we metaphorically describe this nation as a family because the way everything is handled, it feels like this nation is one big dysfunctional family, where the politicos in office are the parents and we – the people – are its children. And like any family, we are being told what to do, regardless if we like it or not. However, it seems the parents are not seeing eye-to-eye on this bill; both parties are very intent in preventing this bill from reaching the president’s desk. Even though the media describes the bill as “comprehensive immigration reform,” the fact is, this bill is anything but “comprehensive.”

The bill has four major provisions which eventually transform the present family-based immigration system into a “rich man’s immigration system” that would curb future immigration only to those who can afford the high visa cost and those with college degrees, while at the same time creating a new bracero program and adding more border cops to the Southern border. Other than border security, the bill’s other primary focus is “reducing” the so-called “chain migration” by creating a point system based on an individual’s skills, income, and education levels. More importance would be placed on the number of points a person received than the person’s family connection, meaning each family member would be evaluated to determine their eligibility for entrance into the US. Greater importance would be placed on those with higher skills and education (47 = Occupation – job offer in a specialty or high-demand field, employer endorsement, experience and age; 28 = education; 15 = English & civics; and 10 = Extended family), however, there are some who state this is not true and that the system would reward those who are less educated.

The proposed bill also gives priority to “enforcement” to such measures as doubling the size of the Border Patrol, vastly expanding the military-style barriers along the US-Mexico border, increasing the number and size of detention facilities for undocumented workers, and establishing a new police-state technology for workplace checks the legal status of every worker in the United States.

The proposal would establish a temporary worker program (the old bracero program, just renamed) that would bring in new immigrants to the US while creating a separate program for seasonal migrant workers. Skills and education-level would be weighted over family connections in deciding whether prospective immigrants should get permanent legal status. In other words, the comprehensive immigration reform bill is reverting to the 1917 Immigration bill that forced everybody over sixteen years of age to take a literacy test. Those who were considered ignorant were not allowed to come in. This time around, it is being called a merit system – a system that is being used in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The bill would allow 400,000 200,000 temporary workers to enter the country each year on “Y visas” to fill the multitude of high skills jobs that Americans can do, but cost too much and would let employers have the option to cut cost and hire immigrants to do those jobs. The visa is renewable; however, it is limited to a total of three two-year-periods, thereby ensuring a truly “temporary” worker program. As immigrants toil under conditions of thinly disguised slavery, they are effectively denied the right to bring family members with them by making them them jump through unreasonable hurdles – such as providing evidence that their spouses and children have private health insurance coverage.

It is interesting to see the how the media and the more hysterical anti-immigrant demagogues claim that this bill is offering “amnesty” to 12 million undocumented immigrants, when the simple fact is, the Senate bill is not an amnesty program. The comprehensive reform bill is simply another smoke and mirrors ploy, in which millions of undocumented immigrants would face various conditions making it difficult “path” to earned citizenship, such as passing background checks, paying fines, and “getting in line.” Under the proposed legislation, in order for the undocumented workers to qualify for this new “path” to citizenship, they would have to apply for a four-year renewable temporary “Z visa,” which would mean they would have to cough up $5,000 in fees and penalties and pay an additional $1,500 processing fee for each person applying. Even though this visa can be renewable indefinitely, the bill does not mention if the $5,000 a one-time penalty or that they would continue coughing up that amount each time they were to renew their visa. Once this is done, the visa holder can then be qualified to convert the visa to permanent residency if the head of household applies within 8 years and RETURNS to his/her home country to collect the visa at a consulate. However, they must remain there for 6 to 8 months before they can begin their “path” to citizenship. This would also include paying another $4,000 fine along with a $3,500 visa fee. Permanent status would only be granted after the Department of Homeland Security has cleared its backlog of the four million applications by legal immigrants who are waiting for their visas to bring relatives into the country. The process can take eight or more years to clear. The “legalization” process abounds with provisions described as “triggers,” that would determine if they can stay or not. It would not be surprising to see hundreds of thousands of immigrants be denied legal status and exposed to immediate deportation.

What’s more, our elected leaders, tried to fast track this bill without having a true dialogue. Clearly, both Republicans and Democrats were catering to both conservative and liberal voters, in hopes of winning their votes in the upcoming 2008 presidential elections rather than the lives and suffering of the immigrants who do not have a vote. If passed, it would have truly demoralized millions of people and their families into feeling like unwelcome guests, this also goes for the non-brown immigrants. The bill would have put everything just slightly out of reach for them. It will make them feel like they are on some treadmill and being told pay a little more and all your dreams will be met just over the horizon. What they don’t realize it is a carrot dangling on a stick just inches out of their reach, and no matter how far they think they have gone, they are still on the same treadmill and the carrot is still there, still just out of reach. The only ones who benefit for this are the corporations that need their cheap labor.

If there is a reason for the large influx of immigration from Mexico into the US, it is due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). For the past 13 years, NAFTA has provided cover for our imperialistic march for power and profit. Predatory multinational corporations have prospered from their economic conquest as they allied themselves with friendly governments at the expense of ordinary working people who ultimately paid the price. The result – mass and growing poverty, human misery, and ecological destruction great enough to threaten the ability of the planet to sustain life.

This Senate bill reflects who would benefit from this – the business sector. Even though the business sector spoke against the bill, in reality it was the major corporate players in agriculture, construction, technology, and other sectors of the economy that drafted the bill. This is bill is another attempt by major corporations trying to undercut the American workers and reap billions of dollars off the backs of the victims from the Corporate America juggernaut. Both parties want to assure businesses have a large exploitable documented temporary worker pool they can use as needed, abuse as they wish, underpay, deny benefits and above all use as a wedge to destroy organized labor and the rights of all working people in the country. We must understand that it is our neoliberal agenda that is driving millions of people to abandon their home. They are here to seek a better life, only to find themselves to be exploited in the workplace and terrorized by Homeland Security ICE storm troopers.

We must be aware of the hypocritical nature of wanting to benefit economically from the Mexican migration, but at the same time, creating a hostile environment driven by fear against immigrants to control migration flows. It is time for civil rights and other progressive organizations to mount a combined effort to fight back! We can no longer sit back and watch this country be destroyed itself at the expense of society’s most vulnerable while the capitalist continue to get wealthier on the backs of the immigrant people, while they receive nothing in return.

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