Immigration advocates and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed discomfort on Tuesday with the immigration reform bill set out by the bipartisan “Gang of 8″ for various reasons.
“There’s enough in the bill to dissuade Republicans, and there’s enough in the bill to dissuade Democrats,” said Daniel Garza, head of the LIBRE Initiative, a conservative Latino advocacy group. “But there’s also enough in the bill to encourage and motivate both to get together.”
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would institute a 13-year process for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before 2012 to become citizens, along with separate tracks for younger immigrants and increased visa caps for both science and technology workers, as well as workers in other industry.
While commending the senatorial group for making progress, DRM Action Coalition spokesperson Cesar Vargas told The Raw Story his group would be working to protect younger immigrants as the bill goes forward, specifically naming three potential opponents to the measure in the Senate.
“We are going to show that we are working with our teams in Texas and Alabama to ensure that opponents don’t stand in the way, like Senator [Jeff] Sessions, Senator [John] Cornyn [R-TX] and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX),” Vargas said.
According to The Hill, Sessions (R-AL) said Monday night that he was afraid the bill would ultimately give 13 or 14 million immigrants a way to work toward citizenship, as opposed to the commonly-held figure of 11 million people. He was also leery of giving them the way to get “better jobs than they currently have.”
“Maybe they were working at a restaurant part time,” said Sessions, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Now they’re going to be truck drivers, heavy-equipment operators competing at the factories and plants and we’ve got an unemployment rate that’s very high.”
Vargas said his group will also push to amend the bill so that DREAMers, as many young immigrants are known, would be immediately eligible for the bill’s new “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) visas after the bill is enacted, with a three-year course to citizenship. The proposal currently calls for a six-month waiting period before the visa application process opens, with a five-year track for younger immigrants.
Felipe Sousa-Rodríguez, co-director of GetEQUAL, which represents immigrants from the LGBTQ communities, said his organization will be pushing to include the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) in the eventual legislation, allowing for same-sex couples to sponsor their long-term partners for green cards. He pointed out that several senators who have supported marriage equality voted for the DREAM Act when it was introduced in 2010.
“Including UAFA will actually bring votes,” Sousa-Rodríguez said. “It’s not going to take away votes from a comprehensive reform bill. Sixty-four percent of Latino voters support the inclusion of same-sex couples in immigration reform. Senators that are going to be key for this bill to pass support it. It would be cruel not to include people who are only seeking to be together, to be with the people they love.”
The bill’s reliance on border security “triggers” — like a 90 percent arrest rate for undocumented crossings — was a concern for both Sousa-Rodríguez and journalist Sara Inés Calderón, who delivered a critique of the bill online, in a video for Pocho.com, slamming it as a boost for the companies providing the security.
“In 1986 we had some legislation, got some people legalized, did some border enforcement,” she told The Raw Story. “In 2013, we have some legislation, we’re gonna do some border enforcement, get some people legalized. What, in 2030, 2035, we’re gonna have to do it all over again. Is it like a 27-year rule or what?”
Rep. Raúl M. Grivalva (D-AZ) reasserted his objections to attaching security provisions to new immigration measures in an interview on Tuesday with C-SPAN.
“A myopic security look at how we do immigration reform is not the way to go,” said Grivalva, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “But the linchpin for me has been a path [to citizenship]. If that’s a tradeoff, then it’s fair. But if there are triggers attached – that say, ‘We will not move on this path unless,” – then I’m uncomfortable and not supportive, and I think a lot of other people will be too.”
Garza, who was part of a meeting between members of the senatorial group and various civic groups, said he was told the security component was necessary to allay concerns border enforcement would be ignored compared to previous legislation efforts. He also supported the 2011 cutoff date for applicants.
“I think that that’s necessary,” he said. “You have to give time for people who have entered the country and not incentivize people to come across the border and gain eligibility. It’s not that long ago — I think it’s about a year and a half. It’s fair. What you want more than anything is full participation of the folks who are already here illegally.”
Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
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