On July 22, 2013, Democratic Perspective took on the politically-charged subject of immigration policy and Senate Bill 744, the Immigration Reform Bill that recently passed the US Senate.
It seems almost everybody has an opinion about immigration. But many lack an understanding of its causes. And many conflate illegal drug trafficking with illegal border crossings by people simply looking for work and a chance to improve conditions for themselves and their families…the same motivations that led to previous waves of immigration into the United States.
The original immigrants, including our Founding Fathers, didn’t wait in lines. They didn’t apply for entry. They weren’t welcomed by the original population. But they came anyway. In fact, our nation was built by immigrants who came here for opportunity or were displaced for economic, religious or political reasons. They came from virtually every nation and region on Earth.
It was because of this that America became known as the Great Melting Pot.
The first political opposition to immigration didn’t come until 1843 when the Know Nothing Party (that’s not an opinion, it’s the real name) objected to the arrival of Irish and German Catholics. But the first immigration law was the Page Act of 1875, also known as the Asian Exclusion Act, designed to limit the influx of Asians settling on the west coast during the Gold Rush. In 1917, the Literacy Act further limited immigration, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Internal Security Act of 1950.
By far the most controversial immigration law came in 1954. Known as Operation Wetback, the new law led to the apprehension and deportation of more than one million Mexican immigrants within the first year. Many of those deported were not allowed to reclaim their possessions. They were often stranded without food or employment. And some were simply left in the desert.
Despite that sad episode, immigrants kept coming across the southern border until, today, it’s estimated that 11 million undocumented people are living here. Most came here through a school or work visa and simply overstayed the allotted time.
Like past immigrants, today’s immigrants come to the US for opportunity. Some have been displaced by political persecution. Some have been displaced for economic reasons. The US-backed wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua led to refugees coming to the US to escape the violence in their homelands. And NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) led to large US agribusinesses dumping corn in Mexico and Central America, making it impossible for small farmers to succeed and driving them into cities looking for work. When they couldn’t find work, they moved to Mexican cities along the border hoping to catch on at one of the factories. Eventually, they came to the US.
In recent years, the US government has poured money – $106 billion since 2007 – into a fence and the Border Patrol in an attempt to block illegal immigration. Homeland Security reported 365,000 apprehensions by the Border Patrol in 2012. As a result, illegal immigration is now estimated at net zero, or likely even negative.
Yet S.744 calls for spending $34 billion more to secure the border.
The bill would double the current size of the Border Patrol along the southern border, making the force larger than the FBI. It would complete the “danged” fence. And it would add a variety of new technologies, including drones, to prevent illegal border crossings.
The result of weeks of floor debate and months of private negotiations by the Gang of Eight — a group of four Democrats and four Republicans including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the bill eventually passed by a vote of 68-32 with fourteen Republicans crossing the aisle.
If passed by the House and signed into law by President Obama, the bill would establish a 13-year pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Following are the basics of the bill:
1. S.744 requires that a series of enforcement measures go into effect prior to completing the legalization process.
2. Provides a path to Lawful Permanent Residence (“green card”) for the existing undocumented population by creating a new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program.
3. Before those with RPI status can apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status, certain security goals, or “triggers,” must be met, including increased border security and a fully-implemented E-Verify employment verification.
4. S.744 creates an independent Department of Homeland Security Border Oversight Task Force, with 29 members appointed by the President, including 12 members from the northern border region and 17 from the southern border region.
5. The bill addresses immigration removal, detention, and court processes, including authorizing access to counsel for certain vulnerable populations, giving immigration judges more opportunity to make case-by-case determinations on removal decisions, and streamlining the asylum program.
6. It increases penalties for certain criminal activities, making it more difficult or impossible to become a legal resident due to drunk-driving convictions, gang activity, domestic violence, passport fraud, and identity theft.
Following passage by the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner pronounced the bill dead on arrival in the House. He has ruled out taking up the Senate bill and suggests that the House may address some of the issues on a piecemeal basis. Many House Republicans have announced outright opposition to any immigration bill that offers a path to citizenship for those in our country illegally, while Democrats are opposed to any bill that falls short of citizenship for all 11 million who are in the country illegally. So the likelihood of immigration reform is tenuous at best.
You can read the entire Senate bill at the Immigration Policy Center website. Be sure to explore the site because it contains many other articles and reports that you may find educational and useful.