Wednesday, June 14, 2006

So What's the Deal Again?!

We heard about the contentious debate in the Senate from the end of April to May 26 on immigration reform. Amendments floated in and out of debates; some were picked up and others were shot down and the debate trudged on. That wasn’t all; the marchers trudged on too. They flooded the streets, coast to coast, from New York and Chicago to Los Angeles and Dallas. What was the impact? The Senate finally struck a deal and passed its version of immigration reform.

Is it really immigration reform? I don’t know if that’s what I would call it but then again, we have to start somewhere. It includes some good and some bad but only time will tell what will happen in the upcoming year. The Senate version is no doubt different from the House version of “immigration reform” and people have been wondering why. Let’s start from the beginning.

James Sensenbrenner, sponsor of the REAL ID Act (the one that mandates the establishment of national identification cards) proposed a very enforcement heavy bill on immigration and decided to fast track it right before Congress broke for the December break (basically, the debate was limited and the bill passed in the House a week after it was introduced). No doubt, the bill was condemned by immigrants and activists alike. Why? Simple, it made all undocumented individuals criminals and people who did so much as give an undocumented individual a ride from point A to point B felons. It also broaden detention provisions so that people being held for immigration issues could spend years under federal custody, until their fate was decided, if ever.

We all saw the rallies in Chicago. Most of us were there, marching alongside activists demanding comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate decided, after long weeks of debate, on S.2611. It’s different from the House version alright! This version provides millions of people with the chance to apply for legalization. The DREAM Act gives students the chance to go to college based on good grades and behavior. It tries to clear the backlog on family visas so your aunt and uncle who have been waiting for 22 years to come to the US may be finally able to come in the next few years! Sounds great right? So what could the problem be?!

Well, the legislation has some “low-lights” too. For example, local police would be able to enforce national immigration laws; they’d be encouraged and reimbursed for trainings etc (. Detentions are still indefinite; DHS would get to add more beds to detention centers to house more detainees. Such individuals can be held for years with no hope to getting out until they get deported. A few million people would have to leave the country and may not be able to come back because they don’t meet the requirements of the tiered path to legalization (people who have been in the US more than 5 years get to pay a fine and apply for legalization; those who have been here between 3 and 5 years have to leave the country then come back and people who have been here less than 2 years, have to go back without any guarantee of coming back. Of course there are more rules in fine print).

Though the bill passed in the Senate, it is so drastically different that a lot of the details will need to be negotiated in a joint conference committee. This committee will have members of the House committee as well as the Senate committee. Chances are, nothing will get done until after the elections, until the immigrant communities put their money where their mouths are and mobilize by the thousands to the polls.

So what’s the deal again? Absolutely nothing!


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