From the Grassroots to the Gang of Eight: The Fight for Immigrant Justice
Momentum is building for comprehensive immigration reform as a bipartisan “gang of eight” senators, led by New York’s Chuck Schumer, prepares to unveil a bill they have been working on since last December. This Wednesday, tens of thousands rallied in Washington to demand a path to citizenship for the nation’s approximately eleven million undocumented residents. Among the speakers was Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, one of the eight senators working on the new bill, who proclaimed:
And we know—and we know, as does every American who is honest with themselves know, that if you had fruit for breakfast this morning, it was probably picked in the hot sun by an immigrant worker with a bent back and a sunburned skin. We know that if you had chicken for dinner last night, it was probably plucked by the calloused, cut-up hand of an immigrant worker to provide you your dinner. We know—we know that if someone in your family who needs care, constant care, the chances are that it is an immigrant worker whose steady hand and warm heart is taking care of their daily necessities each and every day. We know that some of the most successful high-tech companies in America were founded by an immigrant in the United States. These are people doing the jobs to build America, and it’s time to give them the dignity that they deserve and the opportunity to earn their way to the American dream.
Leading the crowd in chants of Sí, se puede!, Menendez seized on the energy brought to the rally by young undocumented activists.
It is doubtful, however, that the bill Menendez has helped draft will grant a majority of immigrants “the dignity that they deserve,” even if it brings many out of the shadows, as Senator Schumer insists it will. As Juan Gonzalez points out in his New York Daily News column, the current draft of the bill is likely to put undocumented residents at the back of a twenty-year-long line for green cards. Prioritizing the entry of some 4.7 million immigrants who have applied to enter the United States legally, the bill would keep undocumented residents waiting at least thirteen years before they could apply to become citizens. And for undocumented Mexican residents—who make up nearly two-thirds of the total undocumented population—the path to citizenship will likely be even more tortuous, given the current limits on visa allocation to residents from any one country. As Mae Ngai wrote in Dissent in February, “The structural mismatch between an abstract and rigid allocation system, on the one hand, and a dynamic labor market, on the other, will continue to generate unauthorized migration.”
The new Senate bill’s anticipated border security provisions include continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border.
Still more rigid than the green card system are the new Senate bill’s anticipated border security provisions, which include “continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border and 90 percent effectiveness of enforcement in several high-risk sectors,” to be supported by $3.5 billion in Homeland Security funding. The ten years’ worth of border fortifications provided for in the new bill are among the regressive caveats that have brought the Republican half of the “gang of eight” to accept a deal. Conservative legislators are apparently not satisfied that the Obama administration already spends more on immigration control than on all other federal law enforcement combined—some $18 billion in 2012—and has deported a record number of undocumented immigrants: as many immigrants were deported during Obama’s first term as were deported during George W. Bush’s eight years in office, and the Obama administration is set to deport two million immigrants by 2014. Over 200,000 of the deportees in the last two years were parents of U.S. citizens, leaving thousands of children stranded in foster care.
Leaving the moral weight of such measures aside, one might expect that their costs alone would worry austerity-minded conservatives, some of whom have already started to claim that immigration reform is too expensive. Apparently driven more by racism than by any other kind of ideological consistency, however, leading conservatives are prepared to shell out whatever it takes to keep the border shut tight. It goes without saying at this point that their obsession with increased border security is wildly unwarranted. As Adam Goodman writes in the Boston Review,
Washington’s focus on border enforcement isn’t justified by facts on the ground. Apprehensions are at a 40-year low, net migration from Mexico is at or near zero, and based on crime rates cities along the U.S. side of the border are among the safest in the nation. Yet the bipartisan obsession with enforcement continues, with a commitment to waste billions more tax dollars.
The emphasis on border enforcement is only one of the major flaws in the “gang of eight” bill that make a mockery of the “comprehensive” in “comprehensive immigration reform.” The latest reports from the Senate suggest that the bill would block the path to citizenship for immigrants who have entered the United States since the end of 2011, as well as for those with a criminal record and low or unstable income. Furthemore, it is likely that the Senate bill, like the White House proposal earlier this year and a bill drafted by a group of House members, will deny the benefits of Obamacare for at least a decade to immigrants who obtain provisional legal status. If such a provision is included in the final bill, it will ensure that the vast majority of these immigrants will continue to suffer from disastrously inadequate access to affordable health care.
In addition, reports hint that in order to make way for more “merit-based” professional immigration, the Senate bill will cut down on family immigration, reducing the number of visas available for siblings and adult children of immigrant citizens. Neither will it grant same-sex partners the right to apply for green cards under family immigration laws, despite a push in this direction from the White House.
Cutting down on family visas in favor of H-1B visas for highly-skilled workers has been a major focus in the recent Silicon Valley push for immigration reform, led by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Dissent readers skeptical of Facebook feminism have good reason to be equally skeptical about Zuckerberg’s approach to immigration reform, which privileges a small minority of highly-educated workers in “specialty occupations” over the innumerable undocumented immigrants struggling to earn a living wage.
Recent polls showing that a large majority of Latina women identify as feminists are another reason to suspect that tying immigrants’ rights to women’s rights may help revitalize American feminism.
Nevertheless, the current push for immigration has also been accompanied by more encouraging developments at the grassroots level, including revitalized support for domestic workers, guest workers, and immigrant women. Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, notes that reform efforts hold promise for U.S. domestic and care workers: “I think frankly comprehensive immigration reform is the biggest organizing opportunity of our generation,” she told the Nation last Friday. The push to include domestic workers in immigration reform has shed new light on immigrant women, who make up a disproportionate part of the U.S. informal (and underpaid) workforce. Recent polls showing that a large majority of Latina women identify as feminists are another reason to suspect that tying immigrants’ rights to women’s rights may help revitalize American feminism.
Despite its emphasis on highly skilled workers, the Senate bill may also bring a wide range of blue-collar immigrant workers a few steps closer to livable wages and working standards. Recent campaigns around guest workers’ wages and rights, covered extensively by Josh Eidelson in the Nation and Dissent, appear to have registered with the legislators crafting the immigration reform bill—though labor protections for guest workers remain at stake. So far, AFL-CIO involvement in negotiations seems to be pushing the gang of eight in the right direction. Meanwhile, Thomas Perez’s nomination as Labor Secretary suggests that Washington may be growing more receptive to new alliances between organized labor and the immigrants’ rights movement: as the National Review disparagingly noted in March, Perez has been unequivocal in his support for undocumented workers.
The Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform remains far from inclusive, but a broader shift in U.S. attitudes toward immigrants—from the grassroots, to the newsrooms, to the halls of power—is unmistakable. Sí, se puede!
Margaret Thatcher’s Afterlives
Offshore tax havens? The 2008 financial crisis? Also Thatcher.
In Jacobin, Richard Seymour mulls over Thatcher’s “experimentation with new forms of right-wing populism, fusing a defensive white nationalism with free market ideology,” as well as her support for dictators abroad and her debt to Richard Murdoch.
Verso has assembled an impressive series of materials on Thatcher on their blog, covering her racism and anti-immigrant policies, her war against the miners and the British working class in general, her privatization of elderly care services, and her unofficial state funeral.
Bruce Robbins champions underrated French political philosopher Etienne Balibar in n+1.
How did the New Yorker‘s vaunted fact-checkers overlook the blatant errors (if not outright lies) in journalist Jon Lee Anderson’s major report about Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela earlier this year?
History from below, except from above: a new generation of historians are studying the “most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.”