Friday, May 17, 2013

Alvaro Huerta, “Just Say No to Gang of Eight Immigration Bill”

Given the national debate over the so-called Senate “Gang of Eight’ immigration reform bill, I have one recommendation: go back to the drawing board. Introduced on April 17, 2013 by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as S. 77 or the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” this 844-page document represents a complex, costly, enforcement-centered and morally bankrupt bill.

For the sake of brevity, let’s take the case of the “path to citizenship” component. It makes no sense why undocumented immigrants should pay exorbitant costs, such as financial penalties, back taxes and application fees? Haven’t these immigrants suffered enough financial hardships with the epidemic wage-theft cases against America’s most vulnerable workforce? What about the case that immigrant workers too often work below the minimum wage, receiving no over-time, adequate lunch breaks and other basic work-place rights that most citizens enjoy?

Additionally, don’t employers and consumers benefit from these mostly low-wage workers when purchasing basic goods and services on a daily basis? What about all the taxes that immigrants already pay, both directly and indirectly, without benefiting from federal programs, such as government assistance, Social Security and Medicare?

Moreover, the border-enforcement first pre-requisite before anyone qualifies for citizenship illustrates the absurd aspect of this bill. Why do undocumented immigrants have to pay for something, such as border control, that’s out of their control? How will immigration officials accurately know that the established 90% apprehension success goal will ever be met? As a social scientist, for example, I can’t know 90% of anything unless I know the universe of the population that I’m studying.

This pre-requisite is designed for failure because there’s no guarantee that immigration officials or the proposed bi-partisan task force will ever agree that the border is 90% secure due to economic and/or political reasons. It’s also immoral because it only creates the illusion and false hope for millions of honest, hard-working immigrants—who contribute more than their fair share to this country—of one day becoming American citizens.

The proposed 13-year wait period for undocumented immigrants to be eligible for citizenship, for instance, only occurs (if at all) after a five-year period, when immigration officials will determine if the U.S.-Mexico border is found to be 90% secure. If not, the proposed bi-partisan task force will take control, study the issue and make recommendations. This bureaucratic process only creates unpredictable outcomes for the aspiring U.S. citizens.

In short, to borrow from former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s catchy phrase of the war on drugs policy during the 1980s, President Obama, Congress and the public should “Just Say No” to the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill. In lieu of this flawed bill, we need a new immigration bill guided by humanistic principles with one central component: amnesty.

Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D., a UCLA visiting scholar at the Chicano Studies Research Center, is the author of the forthcoming book, “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” by San Diego State University Press.

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