Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Winter of ICE and No Reform

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

A major overhaul of failed U.S. immigration laws will not occur until after the 2008 presidential election year, according to members of Congress. Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) recently indicated that major immigration reforms will not be a priority in Congress for at least another year, the L.A. Daily News reports.

Both members supported negotiations earlier this year on the immigration bills AgJOBS (H.R. 371) and the DREAM Act (H.R. 1275). The Senate versions of these two bills suffered recent setbacks when the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the DREAM Act and when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) decided not to attach AgJOBS (S. 340) to the Farm Bill.

Enforcement-Only Bills in the Wake of Congressional Inaction

At the same time, House members introduced two enforcement-only bills in less than a week. The Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act of 2007 (H.R. 4088) introduced this month by Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) has received criticism from immigration reform advocates including some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) noted similarities between the SAVE Act and the STRIVE Act, a bill that he and Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced this past March. Rep. Gutierrez said that it looked like Rep. Shuler "took all the enforcement parts of [my STRIVE bill] and forgot to turn the page." (CQ Today).

The SAVE Act, which currently has 112 co-sponsors, may face a challenge in the Homeland Security Subcommittee chaired by Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), a former member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. According to CQ Today, Rep. Sanchez stated that Rep. Shuler made a mistake by "not consulting with her before he introduced the bill."

Among its provisions, the SAVE Act would authorize DHS to retain or construct a family detention center, similar to the T. Don Hutto detention center, with at least 500 beds. The bill would also mandate the use of employment authorization verification called E-Verify (formerly known as Basic Pilot) for every employer in the United States, a move previously criticized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to erroneous Social Security Administration records.

Sensenbrenner Revisits An Unsuccessful Legislative Past

This month Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced another enforcement-only bill, the Border Enforcement, Employment Verification and Illegal Immigration Control Act (H.R. 4065). This bill, which currently has 10 co-sponsors, is similar to H.R. 4437, a measure Rep. Sensenbrenner introduced in 2005 when he served as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

The American Friends Service Committee believes that legislative proposals such as H.R. 4088 and H.R. 4065 do not offer workable, realistic solutions that constructively address the issue of immigration facing the nation. An enforcement-only approach does not reflect the support studies and polls have reiterated for bringing "out of the shadows" the nation's undocumented immigrants and workers.

Legislation Mirrors Disturbing Wave of Local Immigration Legislation

Unfortunately, because the federal government has failed to produce constructive policies, there are now troubling manifestations of local and state governments taking actions in a matter that is the legal purview of the federal government. The Congressional proposals come at a time of increased use of local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law in 34 states such as Arizona, North Carolina and Virginia.

This troubling landscape is compounded with the rise in anti-immigrant ordinances that exclude undocumented immigrants from accessing housing, social services or jobs. Sadly, the root of these efforts is grounded in misguided policies, an increase in nativism and the calls by restrictionists to swiftly apprehend and deport immigrants who have not adjusted their immigration status. The domino impact has been clear: multi-status families have been separated; children have witnessed the deportation of their parents; more immigrants are now being held in detention centers; and racial profiling, and civil and human rights abuses has also increased.

Tone of Campaigns Does Little to Encourage Thoughtful Policy Solutions

Despite the increase in state and local measures, the aftermath of the state elections that took place in New York and Virginia in early November showed that immigration is not necessarily a wedge issue when it comes to the ballot box. Representative Xavier Becerra, (D-CA) said the elections sent "a clear signal - immigration by itself is not a wedge issue to count on in a negative campaign." (L.A. Daily News). While immigration is one of several issues that concern voters, what voters want is responsible and measured leadership, and a move away from divisive language and demagoguery, according to election analysis by the National Immigration Forum, The Century Foundation, Progressive States Network .

Justice for All

In the meantime, advocates throughout the nation continue to work with the undocoumented immigrants and non-immigrant allies who dislike the current undertone of the immigration discourse. The tone and spirit of this pressing debate can only change when immigrant and non-immigrant communities become fully engaged in actions that challenge anti-immigrant language and actions and that instead, bring to the fore the nation's history of fairness and due process, and ultimately lead to workable and constructive solutions.