BY SETH GALINSKY
The immigration “reform” bill passed June 27 by the Democratic-controlled Senate would tighten government regulation over labor and borders, increase the criminalization of workers without “proper papers” and expand guest worker programs aimed at helping bosses continue to drive down the wages of all working people — immigrant and native-born. The carrot is a more than 10-year road to a possible green card for those who came to the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011, and meet other onerous requirements.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where, if anything, its anti-worker provisions will be strengthened and its carrot whittled down.
Just days before it was voted on, 119 pages of amendments were added to the more than 1,000-page bill. Among the measures: adding 20,000 immigration cops to double the number of Border Patrol Agents at the U.S.-Mexico border, 700 miles of additional fencing there and establishing 24/7 aerial drone surveillance.
But most pro-immigrant groups, as well as the AFL-CIO union federation, continue to back the bill. “The border security amendments … were a bitter pill to swallow,” America’s Voice Education Fund Executive Director Frank Sharry said in a statement, “but on balance we believe this bill is a big win for our community.”
The bipartisan bill passed with 68 votes in favor, including 14 Republicans, and 32 against, all Republicans.
Under the bill’s “road to citizenship,” undocumented workers could become eligible for permanent residency after registering with the government, paying at least $2,000 in fines and fees, passing background checks, and making it through at least 10 years under a new “provisional status.” A felony conviction or three misdemeanors would disqualify one from provisional status. Among the other things that could lead to its termination is being out of work for more than 60 days.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 6.3 million out of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. would qualify for provisional status.
Central to the “reform” is stepping up the crackdown on workers without papers. Within two years all businesses with more than 5,000 workers would be required to use the government’s online E-Verify system to check on the immigration status of all new hires, including requiring a digital photo. Within five years it would be mandatory for all businesses with one exception: “casual, sporadic, irregular, or intermittent” employment.
Combined with E-Verify, the bill requires that all future Social Security cards be “identity theft-resistant.”
The Senate bill mandates tripling the number of “illegal entry” and “illegal reentry” prosecutions in the main border-crossing region and increasing the jail time.
Expansion of ‘guest’ workersAs part of exerting greater control over the flow of immigrant labor — key to the bosses pushing down the wages of all working people — the bill expands “guest worker” programs. It roughly doubles the number of guest workers allowed in agriculture. Many of these workers are given visas only if they have a contract with a farm boss. If they are fired before the contract expires they are subject to immediate deportation.
The bill, for the first time, would allow foreign workers to come into the U.S. for up to three years — as many as 200,000 per year — for construction, meatpacking, hotels and other industries. As part of the deal between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and officials of the AFL-CIO that helped pave the way for the bill’s approval, foreign construction workers would be limited to 15,000 a year.
This would not be the first time that the U.S. government has clamped down on workers without papers while expanding the number of workers here “legally” but with few rights. In 1954, when the U.S. economy was in a recession following the Korean War, President Dwight Eisenhower launched Operation Wetback, which deported some 1 million workers without papers. At the same time he expanded the bracero program, which brought in hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to work in the fields.
In 1986, during an economic expansion, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted green cards to some 3 million undocumented workers while increasing federal penalties for entering the country without papers. The same year U.S. immigration cops deported 1.6 million workers without papers, one of the highest numbers in U.S. history.
Passage of the anti-worker law this year is not assured. Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said the House plans to write its own bill. While supporting the general thrust of the Senate’s bill, many in the Republican-controlled House are opposed to the “road to citizenship,” unless even more arduous conditions are imposed.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home