STATEMENT FROM THE NC JUSTICE CENTER: Immigration proposal a mixed bag

Reform effort contains “positive steps,” but also provisions that cause “great concern”

RALEIGH (Jan. 28, 2013) -- The North Carolina Justice Center is encouraged that President Obama and members of Congress are talking seriously about substantial changes to our nation’s immigration laws. The framework released today from eight Senators contains some very positive steps -- and also includes some ideas that concern us greatly.

The United States should have immigration policies that are fundamentally about reunifying families and keeping families together. This goal is worth keeping in mind as the debate over reform advances. We find distressingly little in the 5-page Senate framework about keeping families together as a major goal of this reform effort.

We have an outdated, broken immigration system. The eight Senators’ framework recognizes this important fact, and we applaud them. However, legislation is needed that provides a reasonable path to citizenship in a timely way. It is unclear whether this proposal would do so, or whether its provisions would merely cause more dreams to be deferred into the uncertain future.

A REAL FIX, OR JUST A NEW LEGAL LIMBO?

To truly fix the system, reform should both keep families together and create a functional path to citizenship. While the Senators’ framework document claims to achieve a permanent reform that will not need to be revisited again, it does not create an immediate path to citizenship for the many millions of immigrants who currently have no “line” to get in.  Rather, it creates an entirely new legal limbo called “probationary legal status” that defers many of the details until later for some other future Congress to address.

We are concerned that this plan could leave millions of people in an indefinite legal limbo for what could be decades until there is political will for reasonable policies.

People with probationary status might face similar uncertainties as those who have benefitted from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama. Deferred Action, however, was a stopgap measure in response to legislative inaction. We agree it is Congress’ role  to write the laws that will ultimately address a broken immigration system, including the parameters for any legalization program, so it does not serve the country well to kick the can down the road while millions of immigrants wait in legal limbo.

CONCERNS ABOUT LOW-INCOME IMMIGRANTS

For low-income immigrants – the people for whom we hold greatest concern – it is not clear that the Senate framework offers a reasonable ray of hope for citizenship anytime soon. We are troubled by the disparity between how low-income or lower skilled workers are treated versus higher skilled workers under the Senate plan.

Caregivers, service employees, and those who clean houses and office buildings should have the same path to a green card in a timely fashion as those who graduate with advanced degrees from US universities. Any effort to create or maintain a temporary foreign worker program that does not provide a path to citizenship or the freedom to move from one employer to another will trap future participants in employment with no meaningful opportunity to advance or make a  permanent life in the United States.

TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON DRACONIAN “ENFORCEMENT”

We applaud the Senators for recognizing the need for strong worker protections in guestworker programs, for due process protections, and for addressing the important problem of racial profiling in immigration enforcement. However, the framework falls short in its overall tone of “enforcement-before-benefits.” When will members of Congress ever stop playing this game of more and more enforcement before a single immigration benefit can be realized?

We are deeply troubled by the fact that the United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined—FBI, DEA, Secret Service, US Marshalls, and ATF.

Unless the legislation that is ultimately passed provides a clear and workable path for both skilled and unskilled workers to enter the United States in future years, economic realities will continue to draw many immigrants to the U.S. without authorization, no matter how much we spend on enforcement. A clear, fair and workable path to legal status will be far more effective in reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants than billions spent on punitive enforcement measures.

IN CONCLUSION

This proposal represents a good starting point. But until policymakers acknowledge that no system that continues to prioritize deportations over keeping families together can be a just system, the core issue will remain unchanged. Hopefully, the coming debate will focus more on what is good for immigrant families than how we can spend still more money on ill-advised and doomed-to-fail “enforcement” strategies. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Dani Moore, Director, Immigrants' Rights Project,  dani@ncjustice.org; (919) 856-2178; Jeff Shaw, Director of Communications, jeff@ncjustice.org, (503) 551-3615.