Monday, June 18, 2007

Why Progressives (and Others) Should Oppose Webb's Amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation

The amendment Senator Jim Webb (D Virginia) is offering to the comprehensive immigration bill that will be debated in the Senate next week is not a positive one unless you favor the status quo that encourages scofflaws and worse.

Senator Webb's amendment (#1313) cuts the heart out of one of the key components of the bill -- getting the millions of undocumented people now in the US out of the shadows and on the path to earned legalization and citizenship.

Webb was right during the campaign:

For his part, challenger Jim Webb, a writer and former Secretary of the Navy, has been clear about his position on immigration reform. He has said he is for a more secure border, but told reporters last week:

"People who say 'no amnesty' or that we are not going to do anything with the individuals who are here are basically looking at a fairy tale….The people who actually have put down long roots in these communities, we need to find a process to bring them properly into society and into the work force."
-- Washington Times, "Webb focuses on income gap," October 24, 2006

He is wrong now.

Senator Webb's amendment will deny millions of hard working immigrants and their families now in the United States any hope of earned legalization.

Senator Webb's amendment would only allow people to have the chance to earn legalization if they have been in the United States for four years prior to the date the bill is passed and are employed.

Even the people who can meet this standard would be denied the opportunity to become legal unless they can prove to the Director of the Department of Homeland Security that they have "sufficient community ties" to be allowed to walk the path to earned legalization and citizenship.

Under Webb's amendment, no one who is not currently working (e.g., a spouse or child of a worker, a student in college, a person who is disabled) could ever qualify for earned legalization. (This is a particularly ironic requirement that would reward those who have broken our laws by working without authorization but penalize those who are their family members or others who are in the country without documentation but have not worked in violation of the law.)

And, even those who are working may not qualify under Webb's plan if they can't show that:

they "have immediate relatives" living in the US (hard to do if it wasn't legal for your family to join you);

"own" property or a business (nearly impossible to accomplish without a driver's license, a bank account or a social security number);

attended school or college in the US (difficult if you can't afford college because you've been denied in-state tuition or can’t be admitted because the state’s AG has issued an opinion discouraging colleges from admitting those without documentation);

and have paid taxes (also, if this means income taxes, difficult to accomplish as an individual if you can't get a bank account).

Senator Webb's amendment will leave millions of people now in the United States without documentation or the lawful right to remain in our country.

With Senator Webb's amendment, the Senate compromise would be neither comprehensive nor a reform.

The millions who would remain undocumented under Webb's proposal would continue to live in the shadows, creating opportunities for economic and criminal exploitation, requiring billions to be spent on law enforcement to identify them and remove them, and continuing to feed the political frenzy that increasingly surrounds this issue at the state and local level.

Senator Webb's amendment would also divide families, allowing some members to get on a path to citizenship and leaving others behind.

It would leave state and local officials dealing with the millions not allowed to even enter the process toward legalization.

Senator Webb's amendment would create a bureaucracy that is neither workable nor likely to be funded to meet the demand.

Senator Webb’s amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to make millions of individualized decisions before people are admitted to the legalization process. The bill as introduced requires a criminal background check and payment of a fine before a Z visa is issued and adds requirements as the person progresses along an 8 year path to full legalization (learning English, getting a job, etc).

The effect of Senator Webb’s amendment would be to make the decades long backlogs now familiar to anyone trying to adjust status or seek permission to immigrate look speedy.

Senator Webb says that his amendment would introduce "fairness" into the "broken immigration system." The immigration system is broken, but his amendment is anything but "fair." A system, like our present system, that isn’t either efficient or effective is not fair.

Senator Webb has indicated that his amendment was motivated, in part, by a desire to protect American workers.

Leaving millions of hard working immigrants in the shadows where they can be further exploited will do nothing to protect American workers.

Only when we have a system that works with our economy and makes legal immigrant workers the rule rather than the exception will we have a system that protects American workers.

Webb's amendment will do nothing to remove the incentives for economic and criminal exploitation that currently exist and will ensure that we continue to have a system where immigrant workers are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who work them in unsafe conditions and too often fail to pay wages that they have earned.

Senator Webb's amendment is not good for Virginia or for the United States, and it should be defeated.

Note: Full disclosure ... I am working as the Virginia coordinator for the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform which sees the proposed Senate bill as the first step in a long process that we hope will produce a final bill for the President's signature that reunites families, ensures national security, protects workers, and provides a path to citizenship for immigrants who uphold and embrace American values of hard work, family, patriotism, and faith. If you want to know more about the bill and the Coalition or make your views known, you can find more information at

No comments: