What the Immigration Rights Movement Can Learn from the Gay Rights Movement

Reblogged from the Washington Post
by Frank Sharry

There is something about being under attack that makes a movement stronger.

I’ve been an advocate for immigrants for 30 years, working with Central Americans in Boston and policymakers in Washington. And for a long time, my colleagues and I assumed that if we developed strong reform ideas and clever lobbying strategies, we’d help create a road map to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in America.

But in 2005, with the rise of the Minutemen and fresh attention from Capitol Hill, many in the Republican Party started to turn immigration into a wedge issue. They demonized hardworking immigrants as criminals and moochers. They blocked national reform and passed harsh state laws aimed at purging immigrants. Their goal: to make life so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would be forced to leave the country. Democrats were divided, our opponents were on the march, and we in the immigrants’ rights movement were on the defensive. Fortunately, we had a community we could learn from, look up to, emulate. And that was the LGBT movement.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community might have been even more marginalized than ours. In fact, I used to joke with a friend who works for an LGBT activist group about who was lower on the totem pole, gays or immigrants. But the LGBT movement bounced back from significant setbacks a decade ago to win multiple state referenda on marriage equality, turn the Obama administration around on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Do the Undocumented really hurt the Economy?

NYTimes by Adam Davidson

Earlier this month I met Pedro Chan at his small apartment above an evangelical church in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Chan, who shares the place with three others, is short and muscular. He has a quiet voice and a patient demeanor that seems to have served him well on his journey to New York. In 2002, he left his Guatemalan village for a long trip through Mexico and, with the help of a smuggler, across the Texas border. In 2004, he made it to Brooklyn, where his uncle helped him find work on small construction crews.

These days, Chan helps skilled (and fully documented) carpenters, electricians and stucco installers do their jobs by carrying heavy things and cleaning the work site. For this, he earns up to $25,000 a year, which is considerably less than the average entry wage for New York City’s 100,000 or so documented construction workers. Chan’s boss, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that unless he learned a specialized skill, Chan would never be able to move up the income ladder. As long as there are thousands of undocumented workers competing for low-end jobs, salaries are more likely to fall than to rise.

Read the rest of this article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/magazine/do-illegal-immigrants-actually-hurt-the-us-economy.html?_r=0

What the 1986 Immigration Reform Law Fell Short

This article from yesterday’s Washington Post takes a look at the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and why it didn’t work as expected.  The truth is, much of what the author explores here has been well know for the last two decades, and can be found clearly outlined in this article by Douglas S. Massey.

There are ways to address immigration and to prevent a future where we continue to have ever-increasing number of undocumented workers living and working in the U.S. The problem is that most politicians don’t like the solutions.  They include:

1) a federal tamper-proof identification card.  Yes, there are problems with this idea, but it works in other developed countries.

2) a temporary worker visa that allows workers to find work on their own (e.g., not tied to a particularly industry or employer). The current temporary visa program is slow to respond to labor needs and requires that employees work for a particular employer, leaving workers vulnerable to their employers

3) criminalizing employers who hire undocumented workers.  Right now we blame the worker rather than the employer who often creates a workplace that only a person with few options (e.g., the undocumented) would select.  We have to acknowledge that U.S. industry benefits from the current situation, and strongly limit the incentives for hiring undocumented workers.


Five Myths about the Immigration “Line”

One of the most familiar (and frustrating) misconceptions about the 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S. is that they’ve failed to “stand in line” to receive legal immigration status.  The Washington Post tackles the five misconceptions about this idea today in their “Five Myths” column.

1. There is one line.The federal government has issued more than 1 million green cards per year, on average, for the past five years. But there are several lines — which one immigrants end up in depends on whether they have a job or family in the United States.

There are four family-based categories for many relatives, called “preferences,” and five based on employment. The number of green cards issued through each is limited by country of origin, but there is no cap for “immediate relatives” — spouses of U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens’ unmarried children under age 21 and parents of adult U.S. citizens over 21.

Immigrants and their lawyers track their “place in line” in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, which lists cut-off dates for each preference and country. For example, the February 2013 bulletin lists EB-1 “priority workers” — superstars in their fields, such as rock stars and neurosurgeons — as “current,” meaning they are likely to wait just the four to six months it takes to prepare visa paperwork and schedule a consular interview.

You can read the rest of the article, which covers the following topics here.

2. Anyone can get in line.

3. Once you are in line, the wait is not too long.

4. If you broke the law, it’s only fair that you get at the back of the line.

5. There’s no way to make the line any shorter.

GOP makes a pitch to Latino voters, countered by House members’ fear of immigrant “amnesty”

There is no doubt that the GOP will continue to have an credibility problem with Latinos even if they help pass immigration reform.  That problem is only compounded by House GOP members who continue to oppose amnesty for the 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S.

WASHINGTON — The immigration debate is threatening to split the Republican Party, pitting those who focus mainly on presidential elections against those who care mostly about congressional races.

Strategists say that if Republicans are to win presidential elections, which they’ve been losing lately, partly because of dismal support from Hispanic voters, they must soften their rhetoric about illegal immigrants and embrace some version of “immigration reform.”

But granting illegal residents a path to citizenship, which critics call “amnesty,” is deeply unpopular in many House Republicans’ districts.

President Barack Obama wants such a pathway. So do some prominent GOP lawmakers who are seeking a way out of their party’s jam.

The plans differ on when and how citizenship might occur, with border security a central issue. Resolving these differences may determine whether a major law is enacted in the coming months.

Some GOP strategists fear they will lose either way.

If by the next election Latino voters think Republicans opposed and possibly blocked a comprehensive immigration overhaul, they might turn against the party in even bigger numbers.

On the other hand, converting millions of illegal Hispanic residents into citizens might produce large numbers of new voters who will lean Democratic for years.

“This is a perilous debate that Republicans have entered into,” said John Ullyot, a Republican consultant and a former Senate aide.

Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote last November and 67 percent in 2008. GOP campaign professionals say Republicans are dooming themselves if they don’t show a more welcoming face to this fast-growing segment of voters.

“Republicans need to solve this issue, politically, if they wish to win national elections, and they know it,” said Texas-based GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak.

Winning House elections, however, is a different matter.

A number of Republican lawmakers and aides say “amnesty” for illegal immigrants triggers strong resentment among their constituents. The upcoming debates could stir passions further, even in swing districts.

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, lost his Cincinnati-area seat to a Democrat in 2008, then regained it two years later. He opposes giving illegal immigrants an eventual route to citizenship.

“It is unfair to allow those who have willfully and intentionally broken our nation’s immigration laws to, in essence, cut in front of those who have been patiently and legally waiting their turn to become U.S. citizens,” Chabot wrote on his House blog. Republicans should appeal to Hispanic voters “on principle,” he said, not by agreeing to liberal immigration policies. “Republicans are better for Hispanics because our policies are better for them,” Chabot said.

Republican leaders hope to minimize internal conflicts by finding a compromise that Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate will accept.

A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a plan that would allow illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship only after steps, yet to be detailed, are taken to further secure the border with Mexico. The plan is backed by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose parents were born in Cuba. He is seen as leading player on immigration.

Read the full article on the Washington Post.

Immigration Reform, 2013 Edition

A bipartisan group of eight senators will unveil a framework for comprehensive immigration reform later today.  It is based on the following principles:

  • Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.
  • Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.
  • Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.
  • Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

It’s  good thing that lawmakers are grappling with the issue, in fact, it’s long overdue.  The entire framework, available here, does a great deal to address the basic unfairness of our current immigration system and if enacted, would help move millions of immigrant workers in the U.S. out of their second-tier status and offer more opportunities.  My concern is that the plan is contingent on “secure borders.”  I’ve written extensively about the folly of this idea, that it is money wasted when there are other solutions, like temporary visas, that could address the border issue.

It is too early to criticize the framework, whatever its deficiencies.  At this point we should hope that it moves beyond framework  and debate and into meaningful legislation

Three strategies the White House can employ to push Immigration Reform Forward

Pablo Manriquez for HuffPost

The political window in Washington is open for landmark, comprehensive reform to the immigration code.  President Obama is expected to push for a bill in the early part of this year.  Here are three ways the White House can lead the charge for meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.   

1.  Empower Cecilia Muñoz

President Obama listens to Cecilia Muñoz, and for good reason. Cecilia Muñoz is awesome.  As Assistant to the President and Director of his Domestic Policy Council, Muñoz has proven herself as a brilliant and loyal enforcer for the president on immigration reform.  Muñoz came up through NCLR.  She knows how the fight for immigration policy works in Washington better than anyone on the White House team.  She also has a groomed and connected Hispanic press shop — the first of its kind in the White House — and a rising tide of Hispanic media to activate and involve in a supremely beneficial policy battle for America.  That’s what immigration is, after all (12).

2.  Reach Out to Marco Rubio

Any serious negociation of comprehensive immigration on Capitol Hill must involve Marco Rubio.  Republican honchos recently met privately in Miami to map out the Hispanic outreach for the 2014 midterm election cycle.  Senator Rubio was surely factored into the strategy in a big way, especially if the Republican Party rallies behind him to support immigration reform.  The freshman senator from Florida supports a path to citizenship, and has so far been willing to make himself vulnerable to what Colin Powell calls the “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] party.”  The White House should collaborate with Marco Rubio to rally the American people behind meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.

Read the rest of this post on HuffPost Latino Voices

The New El Norte: Canada

I lived in Mexico on and off from 1999 through 2005.  Working with immigrants traveling back and forth to Pennsylvania, we spend a lot of time talking about the broken U.S. immigration system and the difficulties workers faced when crossing into the U.S.

Back then I asked a question that seemed far-fetched: why not go to work in Canada?  Their immigration laws were certainly more flexible.

The responses were consistently the same: “it’s too cold” or “I don’t know anyone in Canada.”  I already knew that most immigrants followed their networks north–one person would find and setting in a new area, then travel back to Mexico and share the cultural knowledge with family, friends and neighbors who in turn would start to join the “pioneer” migrant in the new locale.  Migrant patterns are enduring, but they are not unchanging.  This article from the Washington Post highlights how a model guest worker program in Canada is making a new El Norte.

For years I have argued that the U.S. needs a revised guest worker program. Many of my colleagues scoff at the idea, thinking that our H2-A visa program, which links agricultural workers to their employer for housing and health care.  It’s a program that might work well for farmer, but it makes the immigrant worker beholden to his or her employer.

Canada’s worker visa has its drawbacks, but the WAPO article point out that it is designed to offer safe, stable employment and worker protection and to actively encourage workers to return home at the end of the growing season.  While not necessarily ideal, it does meet the needs of the laborer, to some degree.

Only married men are eligible for the Canadian program, preferably those with young children, and their families must remain in Mexico. Another incentive to return home: a cut of the migrants’ wages is placed in a Canadian pension fund, receivable only if they return to Mexico.

Once in Canada, the workers live like monks, sleeping in trailers or barracks, under contractual agreements that forbid them from drinking alcohol and having female visitors, or even socializing with other Mexican workers from different farms.
Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay.“People look to Canada as a model for their success at making temporary workers truly temporary,” said David FitzGerald, an immigration expert at the University of California at San Diego. “But the way they are prevented from staying is by socially isolating them to an extreme degree, controlling their movements and systematically preventing them from interacting with Canadian society,” he said.“From a labor rights perspective, it’s troubling, but it’s appealing to policymakers because it keeps the workers temporary,” FitzGerald said.

Still, migrants interviewed here in the high desert towns of rural Zacatecas said work in Canada is hard but fair and well-paid. Their employers treated them well, they said, and when they didn’t, the local Mexican consulate intervened.

“The consulate threatens to take away their Mexicans, and usually that’s enough,” said Armando Tenorio, who first worked in Quebec tending flowers and herbs inside a massive greenhouse.

At the same time, one wonders why governments cannot simply offer temporary visas for a fee.  If human traffickers are charging upwards of $5000 for what all know to be a perilous border crossing, it seems reasonable that there are resources available to pay a fee to do the same safely.  Once in the U.S., workers could freely seek employment where they wish, and if job were unavailable, they would likely go home.  That has been the trend during the recession, and there is ample research to support this assumption historically.

What is troubling about the current U.S. and Canadian temporary worker visas is the need to control the immigrant.  It’s clear from the Canadian example that for Mexicans participating in the program, safety, security and fairness are as important as freedom to live and work where one pleases. That is something we all need to consider as the U.S. slowly considers immigration reform.

The GOP’s “come to Jesus” moment on Immigration

When I started this blog in June 2006 my primary focus was immigration.  That focus intensified as I finished my book on new immigrant communities in the mid-Atlantic states.  Back then I argued that the GOP’s position on immigration, particularly their anti-Latino positions, would one day prove to be political suicide.

It appears that day has finally come.

Since President Obama’s victory on November 6 I’ve been reading the commentaries from Republicans and Democrats, and it’s clear that the 2012 election has been a wake-up call for many in the GOP.  The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, whose support of Mitt Romney failed to see the coming train wreck before it took place, today wrote that “Republicans will need to develop a more humane, proactive role for government in helping the working class. And they will need to stop actively alienating the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States.”

His sentiment was echoed by David Brooks, who summarized the GOP dilemma on the PBS NewsHour as: “You know, the fundamental issue is that this is a country that is an incredibly diverse country that has changed demographically, a lot more Latinos, a lot more Asian -Americans, a lot more single women, a lot more single men, and a lot more college-educated men. And, culturally, the Republican Party didn’t move.”

I would add that the Republican Party did move, but they were trying to move backwards.  What they found is that isn’t possible.  You either appeal to the new and growing majority, or you become increasingly irrelevant.

There are, of course, conservatives who simply refuse to believe the reality before them.  George Will is a notable example.  He seems to think that the GOP’s ability to hold onto the House indicates that America wants the status quo.  What he fails to realize that the status quo is a forward momentum.  The nation will ratify same-sex marriage one state at a time, Latinos will vote, hopefully in ever greater numbers, and many Americans think that government is not the big enemy, but useful tool in regulating and supporting the lives of the citizenry.

I sincerely hope that President Obama will sieze the momentum of the election and begin his second term focusing on immigration reform, which is long overdue.

!Viva América!