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"National Statement to Support Human and Civil Rights for All Immigrants and to Oppose Compromise Immigration Reform Proposals"

www.nnirr.orgMay/June 2006 issue of Poverty & Race

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, headed by PRRAC Board member Catherine Tactaquin, convened a series of discussions among members and partners around the current immigration proposals before Congress; the following Statement is the product of those meetings. Organizations and Individuals are requested to endorse the Statement (available in Spanish as well on their website, www.nnirr.org). Endorsement/inquires to ctactaquin@nnirr.org.

April 2006

“Fair and Just Immigration Reform for All

We stand together as immigrant, faith, social justice, labor, peace, human and civil rights organizations and other concerned communities to support human and civil rights for all immigrants and to oppose the immigration “reform” proposals presently in the U.S. Senate. [On May 25, the Senate passed its immigration reform bill by a 62-36 vote; the bill goes to a House-Senate conference committee, where it will doubtless receive strong right-wing opposition from House leaders who favor far stricter measures.] We oppose H.R. 4437, the immigration bill passed in the House of Representatives in December, as well as all of the compromise bills presented in the Senate.

We call upon members of Congress and the Administration to stop masquerading these proposals as immigration reform. We demand nothing less than immigration policies that are fair and just, and that respect the rights and dignity of all immigrants and other members of our society.

The rush to reach a bipartisan accord on immigration legislation has led to a compromise that would create deep divisions within the immigrant community and leave millions of undocumented immigrants in the shadows of our country. We oppose the behind-the-scenes brokering currently playing out in the legislative process. These trade-offs and deals are based on election-year campaigning and demands by business lobbyists, rather than on the best interests and voices of immigrant communities. We say, “No deal!”

In a re-ignited civil rights movement, millions of immigrants, their families, neighbors and co-workers, along with faith and labor leaders, peace and justice advocates, have marched and rallied in cities across the U.S. The mobilizations have served as a wake-up call for the whole country to acknowledge the vital role of immigrants as co-workers, neighbors and members of our broad society. And, as details of the current legislative compromise have become known, the voices of immigrant communities are rejecting the proposals for a so-called legalization program, and are denouncing the further erosion of human and civil rights through the enforcement and criminalization provisions. The stakes are considerable, and affect all of us.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the 1986 legalization and employer sanctions law, and the 10th anniversary of the restrictive Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. We cannot allow the current proposals to be enacted as this generation’s flawed immigration reform legacy.

What We Want: Fair and Just Immigration Reform

Fair and just immigration reform means:

  • Genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all undocumented immigrants, including youth and farmworkers

  • Preservation of due process, including restoration of access to the courts and meaningful judicial review for immigrants

  • No indefinite detention or expansion of mandatory detention

  • No expansion of guest worker programsvNo more wasted resources allocated to further militarize our borders and to contribute to the crisis of human rights and lives in the border regions

  • An end to employer sanctions and electronic worker verification systems

  • The strengthening and enforcement of labor law protections for all workers, native and foreign born

  • No use of city, state or other government agencies in the enforcement of immigration law

  • No more criminalization of immigrants, or their service providers

  • Expansion of legal immigration opportunities, support for family reunification and immediate processing of the backlog of pending visa applications

  • Elimination of harsh obstacles to immigrating, including the HIV ban, “3 and 10 year bars,” and high income requirements for immigrant sponsors.


The Current ‘Legalization’ Proposal is Unacceptable

The proposed 3-tiered temporary worker program offers little hope for broad, inclusive legalization of undocumented immigrants. What some are calling a “path to citizenship” in the last Senate bill is merely a massive temporary worker program without worker protections, and contains numerous hurdles that will drastically limit the number of undocumented immigrants who can actually legalize. Such a program would divide communities, including mixed-status families, erode wage and benefits standards, and place a greater burden on safety-net services.

The Enforcement Proposals Undermine All of Our Rights

Significant provisions in the current Senate proposals would dramatically undermine a broad array of rights, increase the criminalization of all immigrants, result in mass deportations, and unfairly exclude millions from eligibility for any legalization opportunity. The expansion of expedited removal would eliminate the right to a court hearing, while the broadened definition of “aggravated felony” to include many minor offenses would result in mandatory detention and mass deportations. The proposals also seek to reinstate indefinite detention and increase detention facilities, including the use of closed military bases. Encouraging local police to enforce immigration law would not only add an additional burden that detracts from current responsibilities, but would discourage immigrant access to public safety institutions.

Moreover, the increased resources to militarize the border, which has already cost over $30 billion in the past 12 years, has not deterred unauthorized border crossings and instead has caused a humanitarian crisis with the deaths of some 4,000 people in the desert. Current border enforcement policies, without provision for safe and legal entry, have resulted in the detention and criminalization of tens of thousands of people at a significant daily cost to taxpayers.

The Proposals Fail to Protect Workers

The current proposals would further erode already weak labor protections and rights for immigrants and other workers. Immigrant workers have historically been used as “cheap labor” by employers and industries unwilling to pay decent wages or to maintain reasonable working conditions. These proposals continue in that same shameful vein, and are designed to force and keep wages down to compete with cheap labor suppliers globally.

Workers need more, not less, rights. A real legalization proposal needs to be coupled with the repeal of employer sanctions, the provision of the landmark 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act that has led to the criminalization of immigrant workers, and which would be deepened through an expansion of an employment verification system. This program has done nothing in the last twenty years but increase discrimination and abuse of immigrant workers. Employers have had greater leverage to threaten and intimidate immigrant workers, break organizing efforts, carry out unjust firings, and lower wages and work conditions for all working people. These abuses impact the entire American workforce, particularly the most vulnerable toiling in low-wage jobs such as farmworkers, day laborers and domestic workers.

No Expansion of Guest Worker Programs

A key concern is the significant expansion of guest worker programs found in almost all Senate proposals and supported by the Administration. We oppose these programs both when they are tied to legalization for undocumented immigrants already living and working here, and as a means for managing future flows of immigrants into the United States. The U.S. does not have a shortage of workers; what we have is a shortage of employers willing to pay a living wage and maintain decent working conditions.

Guest worker programs have been condemned by labor and immigrant communities for their long record of violations of labor rights and standards, including blacklists and deportations of workers who protest. In 1964, Ernesto Galarza, Cesar Chavez and other defenders of workplace rights won the abolition of the old Bracero guest worker program. The purpose of that program, they said, was the creation a vulnerable work-force in order to drive down wages and break union organizing efforts among immigrants and non-immigrants alike. The purpose of current proposals is the same. Temporary, contract workers are prevented the option of putting down roots and becoming full and equal members of our communities.

Future migrants should not be forced to accept a second-class status, violating our country’s most basic commitments to equality. They should be given permanent residence status, allowing them to work and travel freely, to exercise their labor rights, and to live as any other member of our society.

No Compromise, No Deal on Fair and Just Immigration Reform

In recent years, immigrant community members, including youth and students, farmworkers and others, have effectively organized and rallied in support of legislative proposals to strengthen their rights and opportunities to be equal members of this society. Despite the loud and determined voice of immigrant communities, advocates and supporters for fair and just immigration reform this year, we have yet to see an acceptable proposal from Congress. And with H.R. 4437 already passed by the House, we are very aware that any proposal from the Senate would be subject to further compromise in a Senate-House reconciliation process, and would likely produce laws that would detrimentally affect current and future immigrants for years to come.

Increased enforcement does not address the complex issue of global migration. Employer sanctions and beefed up border security have been in place for decades as deterrents to migration, and yet the number of undocumented continues to grow. The sources of migration rest in the problems of economic and political instability, poverty and war in migrant-sending countries. Despite the urgency of the immigration issue in this country, it is clearly not just a “domestic” issue and our policies need to consider support for economic stability, fair trade agreements and peace as vital to addressing the migration of people in search of work, survival, and safety.

We will continue to raise our voices for genuine immigration reform that respects the rights and dignity of all immigrants, and is fair and just. Immigrant workers, students and families are making incredible sacrifices to raise their voices for themselves and future generations, in the face of recriminations and disciplinary actions from employers and schools. As immigrant communities continue to mobilize for their rights, on May 1 and beyond, we will support their right and choice to express themselves.

We pledge to increase public education efforts and the building and mobilization of meaningful alliances, and we will encourage and support immigrant community leadership to advance real immigration reform. We call upon Congress and the Administration to heed the voices of immigrant communities demanding genuine immigration reforms: real legalization, equitable inclusion in our society, justice, and respect for human rights.”
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