High joblessness, expansion of government enforcement programs making it harder for the undocumented to get jobs, and bosses’ assaults against workers’ living standards and working conditions have spurred a marked decline in immigration to the U.S.
Representatives of the bosses’ two parties are looking to craft immigration policy with an eye toward the substantial and growing Latino vote. At the same time, they are moving to tighten government control over immigration flows and maintain a superexploited pool of labor, as they drive against the wages, benefits and unions of all working people.
On Jan. 28 the “gang of eight” in the Senate—four Democrats and four Republicans—released a set of “principles” to guide a new comprehensive immigration bill. Among the eight are Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida along with Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
The plan proposes “immediate legal status for many of the … undocumented U.S. immigrants but delays their embarking on a path to citizenship until a raft of border security and rigorous enforcement mechanisms are in place,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.
Undocumented workers would be able to apply for a new probationary status if they register with the government, undergo a background check that does not—in the eyes of government bureaucrats—show “a serious criminal background” or anything else that could “pose a threat to our national security” and settle “their debt to society by paying a fine and back taxes.” Those who pass muster would be allowed to stay and work. They could get a driver’s license, but would not be eligible for any government services, including health care coverage under Obamacare.
The bipartisan proposal calls for increased use of surveillance drones and further beefing up the Border Patrol.
It includes plans to expand and strengthen the E-Verify program, through which bosses use government databases to check workers’ legal status. The changes would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers across the country. The program is currently mandatory for some federal government contracts and for many employers in several states.
New non-forgeable identity papers under the proposal will make it easier for bosses and their government to keep track of workers—immigrant and native born. And a toughened security system will help to assure that “all persons entering the United States on temporary visas via airports and seaports have left the country as required by law.”
The senators propose creating a commission of elected officials and “community leaders” from southern states to determine when these measures have “secured” the Mexican border.
When the commission deems the border is closed, “probationary” workers would be eligible to apply for permanent residency, which would entail a second background check, passing English and U.S. history tests, and providing proof of a work history and a current job—challenging for many forced to work off the books. Those who finally qualify would have to go to the “end of the line” to apply for a green card.
President Barack Obama has also released the outlines of his own plan.
One aspect of these proposals that has strong bipartisan agreement is a sharply differentiated approach to immigrants who could be immediately incorporated into the professional middle class versus workers they consider necessary but “low skilled.” The Senate “gang’s” proposal says it will fix a “broken system which sadly discourages the world’s best and brightest citizens from coming to the United States and remaining in our country.”
Both plans would “award” green cards to students who get a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math.
On the other end of the spectrum, the senators propose a special “agricultural worker program” to “maintain America’s food supply,” as well as an expanded guest-worker program to “fill jobs at hotel, janitorial, meat-packing and other companies that use low-skilled employees,” reported the Jan. 30 Wall Street Journal. Obama’s supporters have made it clear that the president would go along with these programs.
Maintaining the temporary status would be tied to employment—keeping their heads down, not getting fired, not going on strike. As extra incentive these programs would dangle the promise of possible residency for some down the road.
Some past reform proposals have foundered partly due to opposition to guest-worker programs by the labor officialdom.
This time, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union—which says some 25 percent of its members are immigrant workers—and the Chamber of Commerce are already in discussions about how to craft such a program.
Latino membership in unions has grown 21 percent over the last 10 years, while overall membership has dwindled.
Arguing that the 2012 election showed their party needs to win more support among the growing Latino population, many Republicans are pushing for reform.
Rubio, often mentioned as a potential conservative candidate for president in 2016, took this campaign to the radio waves Jan. 29 with talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who had attacked the proposal the day before.
At the end of the show, Limbaugh backed off. “What you are doing is admirable,” he told Rubio.
The same day, Obama told a rally in Las Vegas he was “encouraged” by the senators’ announcement. “For the first time in many years,” he said, “Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together.”
Obama highlighted one difference with the senators’ proposal, urging that undocumented workers be granted provisional status without having to wait for verification that the border has been closed.
“We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history,” Obama said. “Illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.” In his State of the Union speech Feb. 12, Obama repeated these themes.
Hearings on immigration began in the House of Representatives Feb. 5.
While many former opponents of change in the House say they are open to it today, debate there focused on a “middle ground option” to offer millions of undocumented “an approach that could include legal residency but not a path to citizenship,” the New York Times said.
Full rights for all undocumented workers!
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