News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It’s time to go piecemeal on immigration reform

With the political winds blowing hard against the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant rights groups are considering a new approach: piecemeal legislation. According to the Washington Post, supporters of comprehensive immigration reform are going to a “Plan B” which will focus on passing two key bills.

The first bill is AgJobs, an agreement between farmworker unions and agriculture business groups hammered out more than five years ago that will provide legal farm labor while protecting the rights of immigrant workers.  Its common knowledge many farmworkers are undocumented immigrants. Yet only hardline nativists believe the nation has no need for these workers. (A recent call to unemployed Americans to “take our jobs” by the United Farmworkers Union has had four respondents—one of them political satirist Stephen Colbert.) A guest worker program like AgJobs will ensure the nation has critically needed labor while ensuring all farmworkers are paid above the table—with full tax deductions. It will also protect U.S. workers from the downward pressure on wages from exploitative employers who hire the undocumented and pay them below market wages.

The other piece of legislation moving to the front burner is the DREAM Act, a bill that would allow the best and the brightest children of undocumented immigrants to become more productive members of U.S. society. The law would apply to undocumented students of good moral character who arrived in the U.S. as minors and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. Under the DREAM Act, these young people would have the opportunity to earn permanent residency if they acquire a college degree or complete at least two years in good standing in a college program within a six year period. An honorable discharge after at least two years service in the U.S. military would also earn the young person permanent residency.

Both of these initiatives are not just fair and decent. They make economic sense.

After watching the contentious debacle of comprehensive health care reform, it’s clear a similar catch-all legislative effort to reform our broken immigration system will suffer the same fate. A comprehensive law would assuredly have something in it that everyone would hate. In the current political climate, passing such a law would not just be impossible, it would heighten already-growing tensions between Latinos and mainstream Americans.

Some in the GOP have supported AgJobs and the DREAM Act in the past. The question now will be if the same Republican legislators will act on their consciences – and for the good of the nation – or wallow in partisan politics and stonewall these initiatives simply because it will be Democrats proposing them. Let’s hope reason prevails over politics.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez 

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