The Senate Immigration Reform Bill: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The recently released Senate immigration reform bill had a mix of carrot and stick approaches to providing the long-awaited path to citizenship for millions of undocumented people living under repressive conditions.  While the bill has several good features, it weighs heavily toward very bad and very ugly provisions that will leave out millions of people and will continue the mass detentions and deportations that have become normalized in U.S. society.

First the good.  There is a path to citizenship for many undocumented including many undocumented people, youth and farm workers, and temporary workers on employment visas.  It is also positive that the families of green card holders (not just naturalized citizens, as before) are eligible for visas.  Several of the provisions give more rights to immigrants in detention and there is a ban on racial profiling written into the bill.

Now the bad.  The bill undermines the interests of families.  It shifts immigration policy from a family-based system to an employment-based system (a so-called “merit-based system”).  Currently 65% of immigrants admitted to this country come on family visas, 14% on a employment visa.  Under the Senate bill, the siblings and adult children of immigrants will no longer be eligible for visas, eliminating 65,000 – 90,000 people. Over 300,000 immigrants who are here on temporary visas will not be eligible for permanent status and citizenship.  The bill also eliminates the 50,000 Diversity Visas and allocates them for visas for high tech workers.  African and Caribbean countries will be severely impacted by this change and by the change in the Family Visa program.

What’s more, the “path to citizenship” is unacceptably long—13 years on paper, probably more in reality.  The requirements to qualify for the legalization program are burdensome, especially with the requirements that to be eligible, one must be regularly employed, comply with the provisions about “criminal activity” (for example, three misdemeanors and you’re out!), and pay back taxes, registration fees and fines.  Additionally the ban on health care and other public benefits for those who qualify for the legalization is inhumane and shortsighted.  Everyone should have access to the social safety net for the health and well being of our entire society.

Finally, the ugly.  The bill ties the start of the legalization program to increased border militarization and a Department of Homeland Security certification that 90% of those attempting to cross our southern border have been captured.  It allocates billions of dollars for border and interior enforcement.  As a result, immigrants will continue to be criminalized, especially immigrants of color and the assumption remains that they are a threat.  The fear mongering that has dominated the debate and has led to record deportations, the break up of families, deaths in the desert and on the high seas, the routine violations of human rights of migrants, and the wasting of billions of U.S. tax dollars will continue.

And the bill establishes a biometric identification card and a system called E-verify, a mandatory internet-based system to verify legal status and employment eligibility.  These measures criminalize people who work and are the first steps in a potentially universal system of surveillance that is a threat to all of our civil liberties and privacy.Black Alliance (coupons) and its allies in the Black Immigration Network (BIN) will be organizing and advocating for a fairer, more just immigration bill.  Very shortly, we will launch a campaign to get Senators to revise the bill to address some its glaring deficiencies.  We hope you will join us in fighting for justice.

For a summary of the Senate bill, go to For a summary of the Senate bill, go to http://www.schumer.senate.gov/forms/immigration.pdf