(Please welcome Marisa McNee of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, offering a follow up to our discussion of the current immigration bill working its way through congress, discussed here last week. Marisa and her colleagues, Jeff Hauser (CCIR), Doug Rivlin (National Immigration Forum), Lynn Tramonte (National Immigration Forum) and Maurice Belanger (National Immigration Forum) will be on hand in the comments for the next hour or so to answer questions about this bill and the current legislative effort to promote fair and just immigration reform. As always when we have guests, please remain on topic and use the prior discussion thread for off-topic discussion. Thanks! Please welcome our guests. — Pach)
The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR) welcomes the opportunity to engage with the FDL community on the issue of immigration, one of the most important, complicated, and heated policy debates of our time. Our broken immigration system has long bedeviled our political system, and we appreciate the chance to engage in a dialogue with progressive activists to create the space where a solution to this charged issue will be forged – a space that must reach across the aisle because the road to real solutions is bipartisan.
We hope to provide some context to the debate over comprehensive immigration reform and also make ourselves available to provide as much information as possible about the Senate compromise immigration reform bill that will hit the Senate this week.
If you're asking, "Who is CCIR?" the short answer is that we are a campaign working to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, powered by the efforts of immigrant rights, policy advocacy, grassroots, religious, civil rights and labor organizations across the United States.
Working for true and fair immigration reform requires a careful balance between ideals and political reality that upholds the nation's values. It is colored as much by the hardworking immigrants who embody and renew the American dream, as it is by the pressing need to restore the rule of law and a system that respects all workers. The status quo is untenable: twelve million undocumented immigrants live fearfully in the shadows subject to exploitation and being plucked from their families, 500 people die each year in the desert seeking a better life, U.S. workers are asked to compete with undocumented immigrants often afraid to demand basic protections like due wages or a safe work environment, and hate groups are on the rise.
America has a need and a moral obligation to act. With that backdrop, we see Thursday's Senate compromise immigration reform bill as a strong shove forward, and recognize Senators of both parties for their efforts to reach an agreement that will launch the debate.
Because the crisis of the undocumented must be addressed – and addressed now – we are glad that even conservatives such as Jon Kyl, Saxby Chambliss, and Johnny Isakson have finally joined the majority in recognizing that an earned path to citizenship is not amnesty.
However, we see the agreement as the point of departure from which the Senate must work to achieve the type of system America needs – one that rewards work while protecting workers, honors families, restores the rule of law, and strengthens our economy.
As the agreement stands, it does not yet meet those goals. Among the principal concerns are a proposed temporary worker program which would create a permanent underclass of workers without rights, and the dramatic undoing of one of the cornerstones of American immigration policy, family reunification.
If "temporary means temporary" when it comes to a program for future workers, it creates two big problems: it either creates a churning second-class workforce with limited rights and opportunities, or, more likely, it creates incentives for immigrant workers to ‘jump the program," creating another fast growing poll of undocumented workers. Workers without any opportunity to put down roots could be used against low-wage workers already here. We oppose guest worker programs. However, we do support a temporary worker program with a path to citizenship as a way to provide legal channels for future migration. We believe it unlikely that even the best enforcement system will stop undocumented immigration unless a "break the mold" new worker program is created, providing new workers equal rights and a realistic, structured path to citizenship. Our aging population, growing demand for low-skilled workers, and growing inequality across the Americas, makes an enforcement-only strategy unrealistic. And it is clear to us that native-born and legal immigrant low-wage workers will fare better competing with new workers sharing equal rights, rather than with indentured servants.
The bill also radically undermines family reunification, devaluing the intact family structure. And it does so to create instead a point system skewed toward wealth and education that shuns humble workers and ignores family and employer ties. As Gen Fujioka, program director for the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco has noted this proposal "will undermine the most important ingredient in creating healthy communities. Families are the source of our social, cultural, and economic vitality. The Senate proposal makes it more difficult for talented and hardworking immigrants to put down roots in the United States."
So, given those concerns, what can be done?
We urge two actions:
(1) Make sure that those timid political strategists inclined to advocate punting this issue until 2009 -as Atrios and Ezra Klein have suggested`– are aware that the netroots, like the country, demand action now.
(2) Make sure that both parties understand that the Kennedy-Kyl compromise is a good starting place, but not an acceptable end point.
We urge the FDL community to use its voice to ensure our elected officials address this problem in a workable, fair, and practical manner that reflects real American values.
Addendum from Pach: If you want to contact your representatives, you can find easy access to all their information using the clickable map and/or the address locator at this site.