Senate immigration bill: attack on the family?

On May 17, key Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and the administration of President George W. Bush reached a compromise agreement on a Senate immigration reform bill after months of closed-door negotiations. (Arizona Republic, May 18) Under the plan, which the Senate is set to begin debating on May 21, out-of-status immigrants present in the US as of Jan. 1, 2007 could initially seek “probationary” status while border security improvements and a high-tech worker identification program are put in place. Applicants could then seek a renewable “Z visa” that would allow them remain here. After paying fees and fines totaling $5,000 and waiting eight to 13 years, they could ultimately get on track for permanent residency—although heads of households would first have to return to their home countries.

The plan would also create a temporary worker system, allowing foreigners to come to the US to work for two years, then requiring them to return home for a year, for up to three cycles. A new immigration system would grant points for education, job skills and English language proficiency, while making it harder for US citizens to petition for parents, siblings and adult children. (AP, Washington Times, National Public Radio, May 18)

A number of advocacy organizations moved quickly to condemn the bill, while others expressed cautious hope. The Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform called it “a great starting point for reform getting done this year.” (CCIR E-mail Message, May 18) Sen. Edward Kennedy, the lead Democratic negotiator with Republicans and the White House, acknowledged widespread criticism of the deal on May 18 but called it “our last-gasp stand.” (AP, May 18)

On May 17, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a key negotiator in closed-door Senate meetings on immigration reform, blasted the agreement, saying he could not support the limitations in the family reunification program, the temporary nature of the worker program, and the unrealistically high fees that undocumented immigrants would have to pay to participate. (Menendez Press Release, May 17) On May 18, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney also criticized the deal because it abandons “policy favoring the reunification of families” and includes “a massive guestworker program.” (Sweeney Statement, May 18)

On May 17, just hours after the deal was announced, some 2,000 people took part in a previously scheduled march in Los Angeles to demand immigration reform. The demonstrators marched peacefully to the same park where police attacked protesters on May 1. (AP, May 18)

From Immigration News Briefs, May 19

See our last post on the immigration crackdown, and last year’s Congressional battle.