The U.S. Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill today, after weeks of negotiation over amendments designed to appeal to the most recalcitrant anti-immigration legislators. The Democratic controlled Senate passed the bill by a vote of 68-32, but not before adding provisions for a massive buildup of border security.
The “border surge” is regarded as extreme even by the sponsor of the bill Senator Bob Corker. Corker (R-TN) referred to the bill as “almost overkill,” yet offered the extensive and cumbersome border security provisions to sweeten the deal for Republicans who adamantly oppose a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
Just 14 of the Senate’s 46 Republicans joined all 52 Democrats and two independents in support of the bill.
The bitter compromises required for Senate passage of the bill leave many wondering whether its objective to provide a pathway to citizenship will be fulfilled.
The bill calls for strict benchmarks for establishing “effective control” of the border, defined as persistant surveillance and a 90% apprehension rate, goals many regard as unmeasurable and unrealistic. Benchmarks include the doubling of the border patrol, and the completion of 700 miles of pedestrian border wall.
Border walls demonstrably do little to prevent unauthorized migration: the border patrol has referred to the wall as “a speed bump in the desert” that only slows down a border crosser for a minute or so. Yet, the costs are high to the environment and our local communities, disrupting wildlife corridors, causing massive flooding and drownings in urban areas, putting both wildlife and border residents at risk.
A devastating provision that remains in this bill–largely neglected in this round of debate–is the waiver authority granted by the Real ID Act of 2005. The bill continues to grants full discretionary authority to one individual–the Secretary of the DHS–to waive any law he/she deems necessary to facilitate the construction of border infrastructure. This waiver authority–Section 102 of the Real ID Act–was signed into law by Congress, begging the question, what do our laws really mean?
As a nation of laws, we presumably believe that the rule of law is worth fighting for, is the foundation of democracy. Laws guide rightful action and protect the many from the arbitrary whims of the powerful few. This provision authorizes the government to operate outside the rule of law, outside the system of checks and balances set up by our founding fathers as the cornerstone of democracy.
We are not safer nor more secure today after the waiver of laws that might have protected us. Federal laws that we take for granted for our public safety and the integrity of our environment & communities were waived to build the border wall in 2008. The Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, The Farmland Protection and Policy Act were waived–37 laws in all–to speed construction of the wall through private property, national and state parklands, wildlife refuges and Native American sacred lands.
Today, the American Friends Service Committee released a statement and analysis of this bill. They argue that the bill sacrifices too much, and will give little of what it has promised.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) finds the Senate immigration reform bill passed today, by a vote of 68 to 32, “offers much less than it should, and at great sacrifice to quality of life for all US residents.”
While the bill creates a narrow path to citizenship for some and makes modest progress on some worker rights issues, it not only reproduces but dramatically expands upon many of the current failed immigration policies, making it a far cry from the just and humane reforms that immigrant communities, faith, labor and advocacy groups have been calling for.
“The Senate bill makes it possible for some share of undocumented people currently living in the U.S. to embark on a path toward legalization. But it would not end the current cruel, costly and inefficient system of detention and deportation, and it provides for astounding investments in the border militarization industrial complex – meaning billions for defense contractors and continuing crises for people on both sides of the border,” said Adriana Jasso of the AFSC’s San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program.
“The path to legalization is much narrower than people are making it out to be. It is indeed a precarious path to legalization that will leave many people behind,” said Jose Gonzalez from the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales in Vista, CA. In fact many commonplace situations—such as a period greater than 60 days of unemployment during the ten year provisional period—will make an immigrant ineligible for Legal Permanent Residency.
“Making the highly flawed E-Verify system a requirement for all employers is only a recipe for further exploitation and marginalization of immigrant workers and people of color,” Jose Gonzalez said.
Adriana Jasso noted that the bill’s original provisions for border militarization and other enforcement programs were “already excessive. And despite hearing directly from these communities about the impacts of living in an area dominated by militarization, the Senate doubled down on these measures, failing to consider the humane, meaningful and effective reforms that are so desperately needed.”
As the House of Representatives takes up the bill, the AFSC implores them to adopt compassionate, effective immigration reform, grounded in the following principles:
• Develop humane economic policies to reduce forced migration
• Protect the labor rights of all workers
• Develop a quick path to legal permanent residency and a clear path to citizenship
• Respect the civil and human rights of immigrants
• Demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border.
• Make family reunification a top priority
• Ensure that immigrants and refugees have access to services.
AFSC details its recommendations in A New Path which outlines policy priorities for immigration reform that protects the human rights of all. The New Path principles are derived from nine decades of work with immigrant communities, whose voices guide AFSC’s work on immigration policies.
For more on AFSC’s immigrant rights work in the San Diego region, visit our website here and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
###The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.