Monday, December 17, 2012

An Argument for the Piecemeal Approach to Immigration Reform

From Tania Unzueta, co-founder and organizer at the Immigrant Youth Justice League.

How I stopped believing in CIR and learned to love ‘piecemeal’ legislation

I must admit, I once believed in  comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). I believed in what it promised, an overhaul of an antiquated immigration system that would result in a conditional path to citizenship for 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants who currently reside in the United States. I believed it could be a long-term solution for me, my parents, and my friends who have survived undocumented. Mostly, I thought it was the only tangible solution to a real change in our lives.

But there are three critical things that I have learned about CIR, which have made me a believer in the so-called ‘piecemeal’ or ‘incremental’ approach to improving the lives of immigrants:

1. There is an ugly side to ‘comprehensive’: Legislators use this word because it also includes  harsher penalties for future undocumented immigrants (and those who do not qualify for whatever parameters are set), more stringent enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border, and employment verification programs that “prevent unlawful employment and rewards employers and employees who play by the rules” (See Hispanic Caucus Principles). Please note that ‘comprehensive’ does not mean it also includes our parents, it is about the implementation of immigration law, and presenting a bill that appeases both Republicans and Democrats of all kinds.

2. CIR bills do not address some of the most urgent problems facing immigrant communities: As of today, none of the proposals have included stopping the current 400,000 deportations per year quota from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants in detention centers, the continued collaboration between DHS and local police enforcement through programs like Secure Communities, or the local laws that make undocumented immigrant life difficult, unlivable. Or take a look at Prerna Lal’s blog, which lists out the many problems that will not be addressed by an immigration bill focusing on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

3. It will be hard to move forward legislatively. There are plenty of opinions about what can and cannot happen, the effects of the ‘fiscal cliff,’ the wavering potential collaboration between the parties. This, and the experience we had in 2007 and then again in 2010 means that  we cannot put all of our hopes for improving the lives of undocumented immigrants in legislation that needs to go through the Senate, Congress and signed by the President. We must look at options that include legislation, but also interpretation and implementation of policy, the use of executive power, the judicial branch, and creative grassroots organizing. Read more...


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