The Senate’s secret immigration bill: round two

by Amaury Nora

In the midst of a polarized debate on immigration, politicians and the media continue to paint conflicting pictures of the influence of immigrants on our communities and the economy. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people cross the border between Mexico and the US without documentation. According to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics, in 2005, over 1,171,428 immigrants were apprehended trying to cross the border into the US from Mexico. Although some people assume that all undocumented came here without papers, this is not the case. Many immigrants enter the US with visas but have stayed longer than their visas authorized. Our current immigration policies leave millions of immigrants in the shadows, vulnerable to abuse and hardship because they lack legal documentation.

In an effort to address these problems, the Senate previously hit a roadblock on June 7, when the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that was being considered in the Senate was defeated. Senators failed to close off the debate and move toward a final vote. Just when you thought that immigration was over for the year, President George Bush would have none of that. However, George Bush and the Senate backers of the bill are pushing really hard to resurrect it.

A new immigration bill Senate Bill 1639 was introduced by Senators Ted Kennedy and Arlen Specter earlier this week. The new bill is the same as the failed Senate bill Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that was put together by a small group of bipartisan senators working with Bush. This time around, oddly enough, the same Senators who were instrumental in defeating the bill are giving life back to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill by attaching a series of amendments. It seems there was a change of heart soon after Bush met with the Republican senators who voted against the bill. The text for Senate Bill 1639 was made available to the public today, which can be viewed on GovTrack, the information clearinghouse that indexes all bills and roll call votes in the Congress. A copy of the proposed bill can be found at the end of this post.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the plan is to submit a series of amendments to the bill to appease their angry critics. The bipartisan group is secretly meeting again and once again are withholding information of the proposed changes from the American public in order to fast track this bill before the Fourth of July recess. How ironic, isn’t it? More alarming, is how the Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bamboozled the Latino and the immigrant community by devising an “elaborate series of procedural maneuvers to allow a test-vote” today, June 21.

Reid’s procedural maneuvering will give lawmakers even less time for consideration and deliberation than they had before, which means they literally will forgo various procedures that are associated in the lawmaking process – hearings, testimony, committee debate and amendments, floor debate, and the possibility of further amendments. Instead, this bill will be fast tracked through the Senate without a true debate and without providing us a chance to voice our opinions.

This bill is not a clash pitting nativist forces against big business “pro-immigrant’ forces. At the heart of this Senate proposal are: (1) further militarization of the border and the expansion of immigrant detention camps; (2) a “guest worker” program that will keep immigrants in slave-like conditions; (3) a “legalization” scheme to force undocumented immigrants to jump through many hoops to attain permanent residency; and (4) major restrictions on US Citizens and permanent residents who want to bring family members legally into the US, which would result in splitting families apart.

The proposal calls for new levels in the deployment of border patrol, hi-tech surveillance equipment, and detention of immigrants at the border. One of the key changes is the allotment of $4.4 billion to a newly created general fund, the “Immigration Security Account” (Section 2 IMMIGRATION SECURITY ACCOUNT), which would authorize Homeland Security to increase the militarization of the border. The $4.4 billion would come out of the fines and back taxes these undocumented immigrants are required to pay in order to apply for a temporary visa (Title VI, Section 611 AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS). The funds would be used to construct more walls, build more concentration camps, provide more surveillance equipment, develop an employment eligibility verification system, increase the number of armed agents on the border and the recruitment of former military troops from “the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard who have elected to separate from active duty” (Title I, Section 101 ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL).

(a) The first $4,400,000,000 of such penalties shall be deposited into the general fund of the Treasury as repayment of funds transferred into the Immigration Security Account under section 286(z)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The proposed bill would construct 20 new concentration camps that will have the capacity to detain a total of 20,000 individuals at any time. Currently, there 22,000 immigrants being detained by Homeland Security. This would increase the number of beds to 6,700, which would make the gain since 1994 virtually fourfold. These detention centers are meant to cage people up in an immigration human zoo and categorize them as criminals without trials, “aliens” not deserving of basic human rights.

It is ironic how the US will be force every immigrant (legal and undocumented) to foot the bill to increase the militarization of our borders that is meant to keep them out. Today, thousands of immigrants who desire a better life but who lack the means to go through the process are forced to cross through dangerous desert and mountain areas that have already led to hundreds of deaths each year.

Undocumented immigrants have been made into scapegoats for the insecurities and problems arising out of the workings of the capitalist system itself. Through the reactionary media, the working class and those in the middle class are constantly bombarded with the message that “illegal” immigrants are responsible for everything that has gone wrong in this country – from low wages to cuts in social services. This is an ugly game and it is intended to keep people from coming together to stand against the capitalist elites. This bill was seen for what it is once and it was opposed; yet now it is once again being pushed with very little notice.

All this underscores the urgency for immigrants and those who stand with them to resist this capitalist offensive. Those who are behind the bill apparently hoped to push it through “under the radar” and pass it without anybody noticing, and they need to be held accountable. There is a real need to build a strong united front that goes beyond the immigrant communities if we are ever to take on and defeat the anti-immigrant attacks.

x-posted on Para Justicia y Libertad

Download S.1639: The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (PDF, 20 MB)

9 replies »

  1. I’m not too sure about calling this a “capitalist” offensive. Businesses (especially small farms and factories dependent on unskilled migrant labour) would be the most likely to be in favour of reducing the complexity for immigrants. It’s the unions and other protectionist organisations that are likely to oppose easy immigration.

    And getting anything through such a partisan and polarised polity at this point is going to be astonishingly hard.

  2. This bill was was drafted primarily by corporate lobbyists, such as Oracle, Microsoft, and other members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The fact is the press is making this issue more complex because it continues to state “immigration advocates” are supporting this bill. The problem is nobody ever wants to look who are the people running the show behind the scenes.

    The key player are the folks from the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition. EWIC is a coalition of 40 of the largest corporate trade and manufacturing associations in the country, under the aegis of the US Chamber of Commerce. Isn’t interesting that the head of EWIC John Gay who happens to be the head of the National Restaurant Association and is the chair of board of directors for the National Immigration Forum, one of these so-called “immigration advocate” groups.

    David Bacon is the only one exposing the key players behind this immigration bill.

  3. Politicians and the media are the ones PUSHING the “oh, the poor, poor immigrant” and conflating legal immigrants with illegal aliens. To imply that it’s the grassroots that want this pig-of-a-bill passed into law is dishonest. It’s the politicians and their corporate overlords along with a complicit media that are trying to convince the public that there’s no difference between people who’ve paid thousands and waited years to get here and those who would rather be criminals here than upstanding citizens in their own country. WE understand the difference between cheaters and good citizens…why don’t the politicians?

    All we want is to see the law enforced. Jail the employers and deport the illegals…