Proposed immigration bill leaves many skeptical of its intentions

LOS ANGELES ( – Democrats and Republicans recently agreed on a comprehensive proposal bill which would grant conditional legal status to undocumented immigrants and tighten border security. Some immigrants’ rights groups state that while the bipartisan agreement represents progress, it bears greater cause for concern.

Overall, the proposed bill, announced May 18 and authored by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and endorsed by President George W. Bush, would allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. before Jan. 1 of this year to obtain a renewable “Z visa” to get on track for permanent residency. The process for permanent residency could take between eight and 13 years, with the applicant facing numerous fees and fines, including one for $5,000. Also, heads of households would first be required to return to their homelands.


The bill provides for hiring 18,000 new border patrol agents, erecting 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border and the detainment of more than 27,000 immigrants per day annually.

Minister Abel Muhammad, Nation of Islam Latino Representative in Chicago, said it is not what the people hoped for, but it is the best politically that they can garner due to division within the immigrants rights community.

“It is the best right now because of the divided state of the community, and the leadership particularly, and their unwillingness to work together on behalf of the whole of the community. There are some factions within the movement who wanted unity and others who did not,” he stated, exampling the several May Day marches held throughout Los Angeles on May 1.

“Ultimately what I believe it is showing us as a people is that we can’t seek justice from anyone but the Author of justice, and as long as we keep putting our hope in politicians and an unjust government, our people will always be seeking justice,” Min. Muhammad continued.

He also said that the bill is structured to favor degreed, skilled people, and allow them preference for status over families, calling it an across-the-board attack in the destabilization and separation of the Original family.

“I think this is an attempt to appease everyone, but ultimately it does nothing for the people. No one will be happy with the total compromise, because it’s a compromise that hurts most of the people in need; the families. The corporations are happy because they have their workers; the government is happy because it looks like it is upholding the country and protecting the law–but the people are still seeking justice,” he stated.

In their statement regarding the proposed legislation, Chicago-based La Familia Latina Unida/Sin Fronteras, headed by Emma Lozano said that the bill was a “long time coming,” and recognizes that this nation needs the labor of those who are here without documents. However, the bill “It falls short in recognizing the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of the family: Values it proclaims as the foundation of the republic; It falls short in recognizing its own responsibility for the system of undocumented labor it has operated and benefited from for decades.”

Ms. Lozano’s organization also addressed the issue of whether the bill really does grant amnesty to the undocumented worker, or if this is just another method of exposing those who are in this country “illegally,” and heaping upon them unjust fines and actions.

“Is it an amnesty? It is not an amnesty for the undocumented who will be subjected to probationary restrictions, arbitrary rules of exclusion, excessive fines and long waiting periods.

“It is an amnesty for the businesses who knowingly employed millions of undocumented workers, for the banks which loaned them money, for the I.R.S. and the Social Security Administration that knowingly took their taxes and for the millions of citizens who knowingly participated in the system in which these workers produced the wealth and benefits they enjoyed.

“The probationary period is too long, the fines are too high, and restrictions against those whose only violations of the law are related to work or to entry without inspection must be removed.”

Juan Jose Guiterrez, National Coordinator of Latino Movement USA, labeled the bill a major step toward achieving a package of reforms that President George W. Bush can pass into law.

“We’re not there yet by a long shot. From one to 100, realistically, we’re 70 percent at the finish line. It means that with a conservative majority in both Houses, whether you call them moderate or right wingers, the fact of the matter is we’re not going to be able to achieve everything in the immigration reform debate that most progressives in the immigrant rights movement would like to have,” he stated.

Mr. Guiterrez is not willing to budge on the issues of family reunification and terms of a guest worker program. Historically, he said, the cornerstone of immigration law has been that first priority–in terms of gaining U.S. residency–goes to members of families who are themselves U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, but under the Senate proposal, about 70 percent of that is done away with. “This means that in the future, citizen siblings would not be able to legalize their immigrant siblings or parents; nor would parents be able to legalize undocumented children who themselves are adults,” Mr. Guiterrez said. The only categories that would survive are a citizen spouse, immigrant spouse and children under 21 only.

He insisted that if the plan passes without revisions to that issue, the insignia on the Statue of Liberty would have to change along with it. “It reads on the bottom: ‘Give me your poor, your tired, your oppressed masses yearning to be free,’ but it would have to immediately read: Give me your well to do, educated masses yearning to make money in America.”

Delores Huerta, President of the Delores Huerta Foundation for Community Organizing, said that time was important. “If they had not, the chances are there would be no type of comprehensive plan passed this year at all. It would take another four, six, eight years to get any type of law passed with the presidential elections forthcoming. We have to take this opportunity now because the President and leadership of both Houses want this. The right wingers do not,” she said.

She added that one good thing about the bill is that it has a legalization date starting in 2007 on the Senate bill and 2006 on the House bill, retroactive. “We just have to hope that we can get something through to Congress this year and amend the bad provisions or in the following Congress, after a new administration when people who are more compassionate are elected,” she opined.

Martha Ugarte, a member of the Coalition for Immigrants’ Rights in Los Angeles, said that she is pleased for now, but hopeful for a more humane bill. “Things like heads of households leaving the country in order to come back is something that, if you have a job here and have to leave, how do you know you’re still going to have that job when you come back? How will you support your family when you’re not in the country?” she wondered.

Mr. Guiterrez further highlighted his concern that the conditions under which the approximate 400,000 workers would be permitted into the U.S. are not in the best interest of the U.S. or the communities where the workers produce and live.

“You would be given a work permit to be in the states for a maximum of two years. After that, you would have to depart the country and come back after one year; and at the end of the eight year period, you would not be able to legalize your status in the U.S.–period. We need to be a little more gracious and considerate towards these workers who would be giving us eight years of their lives,” he said. Otherwise, he added, the bill’s other issues are concerns of degree, but he is willing to live with them, for now.

The Latino Movement USA is planning a mass march and rally, slated for June 24 in Hollywood, Calif., to encourage politicians to further improve the bill.

Conservative opponents of immigration reform, call the deal “Amnesty-for-all” legislation and a blatant attempt to silence the debate on immigration reform. In response, is calling for a massive citizen revolt to oppose the legislation.

Meanwhile, Latino Movement USA will continue its reform efforts. “We will struggle for the best possible deal that we can get for working men and women who are undocumented as we don’t have a done deal yet, and we know that the right wing in this country will mobilize completely to stop any type of reform,” Mr. Guiterrez stated.

The White House is expecting the compromise measure to go through the Senate by Memorial Day, May 28.