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La Liga de Las Americas

De Parte de Marisol: U.S. Senate’s proposed “immigration reform” bill is “Immigrant Apartheid” 

Commentary by Marisol Ibarra

The current immigration bill being debated this week by the U.S. Senate (Senate Bill 1639, formerly S.1348) exemplifies one of the best instincts in U.S.-American Democracy. And it also indulges one of the worst.

Our country has always been a land of immigrants, but we also have a less celebrated tradition of importing non-Europeans to do the difficult tasks that our own citizens shun—such as harvesting cotton, building railroads, and picking grapes, pickles, or tomatoes.

These immigrants were not welcomed as citizens. Instead, they became part of a shadowy underclass that belied the unique promise of U.S.-American life.

The guestworker program envisioned by this bill, which would allow hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers into the United States annually, falls squarely within this unsavory tradition: the custom of the African slave ship, the Chinese coolie, and the Mexican bracero.

The United States suffers from a tremendous shortage of “low-level” service workers. The U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 22 of the 30 occupations likely to experience the largest job growth through 2014 will require only on-the-job training. These jobs include landscaper, janitor, and home health aide—exactly the types of vocations many Latino immigrants now occupy.

And one could argue that a guestworker program would merely legalize the long-standing practice of Latino laborers crossing the southern border to find work, then returning home with their savings.

But, if some migrants have historically gone home, others have decided to stay, choosing to work their way up the occupational and educational ladder—an opportunity the guestworker program, as envisioned by the Senate, would not provide.

Under S. 1639, guestworkers would be able to stay only two years at a time, after which they would have to return home for a year. Altogether, they would be allowed to come here for three two-year terms, with a year in their home countries between each.

Yes, the bill provides that they be paid prevailing wages. But the likely result will still be a docile workforce, fearful of being fired, with no allegiance to the United States.

Given its protean nature, it’s hard to take a position on the proposed legislation. The details keep shifting. Will it create a new caste system? Will it prevent children from reuniting with their parents? And what about those 700 miles of double-layered walls?

Numerous Latino organizations have opposed the current proposal, including groups such as Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Hispanic Federation, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the William C. Velásquez Institute.

The latter six issued a joint statement last week calling the current proposed legislation “immigrant apartheid.

Labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, want the bill pitched. “This takes a problem we have and, instead of solving it, makes it worse,” stated Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

These organizations want immigration reform but not at the expense of the family, the cornerstone of U.S. Democracy. I stand with these groups.

For significant immigration reform, maybe we will have to wait until after the November 2008 elections, when the Democrats will surely capture the presidency and increase their majority in Congress due to the unpopularity of the Republican-led War in Iraq with U.S. voters and the Republican-sponsored bills creating a Berlin-type wall, separating México from the United States, and making all undocumented immigrants felons in a senseless bill called the Sensenbrenner bill. Sensenbrenner by the way is a Republican.    

Editor’s Note: On June 7, 2007, Baldemar Velásquez, President of FLOC, testified before the U.S. House’s Committee of Education and Labor concerning H.R. 1763 and H2A guestworkers. A transcript of the Velásquez testimony can be found at www.laprensa1.com.    






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