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Immigration Wed Dec 23 2009
Earlier this month Congressman Luis Gutierrez introduced a comprehensive reform bill (with the too-cute-by-half acronym CIR ASAP, Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act) that would provide a meaningful path to legality and citizenship for millions of families working in the shadows of the economy.
The immigration issue is often shuffled into the "social issues" rubric of American politics, but it is essentially an economic issue. Enforcing a legal regime that keeps a huge number of people participating in the lower rungs of the economy outside of labor law protections has a profound ripple effect. It weakens the bargaining ability of other workers and on a basic level denies some pretty elemental human rights to a lot of people. Mass deportations is neither feasible nor moral; and big business would despair at any move like that, given how much so many industries (particularly light manufacturing, agriculture, and construction) rely on cheap immigrant labor.
What is clear is that the current system is wholly unsustainable. Horror stories of immigrant (and some citizen) treatment by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have bubbled to the surface over the last year; potentially illegal coordination between local governments and ICE have caused friction between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Last fiscal year, ICE gained the dubious distinction of becoming the largest detention system in the United States:
The number of individuals held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the just-ended FY 2009 is now estimated to have reached 369,483 detainees, more than twice what the total was in FY 1999. According to a recent agency report, this growth means that ICE is now operating the largest detention system in the country
Gutierrez's bill accomplishes much [PDF], trading off increased funding and resources for border patrol with creation of "safe houses" and protection for workers retaliated against by employers, and the big one, preserving family unity. This has been an issue here in Chicago in several heart breaking cases where parents were separated from children. The bill explicitly allows immigration enforcement activity without tearing apart the family, providing for social services and alternate detention systems. The current ICE detention system--as noted above--often simply contracts out to local prison systems and creates abominable conditions for families.
Of course, the bill is not ideal. Militarization of the border is one particular sticking point: another is that GLBT families are not covered, an issue that has raised the ire of human rights groups:
In a statement released to Windy City Times, Gutierrez said, "The process I am committed to being a part of in Congress will, I hope, address the unacceptable situation that lesbian and gay bi-national couples live under every day. ... Everyone's goal should be a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a commitment to all families and honors our history as a nation of immigrants. That is my goal, and it is inclusive of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, too."
The word is that Gutierrez is working to get supporters of the bill in his caucus comfortable with the bill as it is and slowly working in the language that would include GLBT families:
Given that this is Gutierrez's own bill and, according to the [Roll Call] piece, he signed a letter Baldwin circulated in favor of adding the [GLBT] provision, perhaps the strategy here is to let Congressional Hispanic Caucus members "get comfortable in their shoes" around the provision, as Rep. Ortiz suggests in the piece, and prevent outright Catholic opposition to the bill out of the starting gate.
Whatever the case, it is high time we began to dismantle the legal regime that keeps millions of human beings in a legal limbo that allows them to be exploited for profit. That can be accomplished without having to bow to the most backward elements of society that continue to insist that some people are not worthy of equal protection.