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NILC Opposes S. 1639

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NILC Opposes Current Senate Bill Because It Would Preclude Real Reform

Monday, June 25, 2007

Read the statement release with this analysis: "How the Current Senate Bill Because It Would Preclude Real Reform."

This week, the Senate will resume consideration of S. 1639, the amended and renumbered version of S. 1348, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.  The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) regretfully opposes this bill as currently written because we believe that Congress can and should do better.

The complex Senate proposal includes essential one-time programs, such as backlog reduction for many families with close relatives now languishing in untenable immigration backlogs, the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and, although flawed and precarious, a path to quasi-legal status for most undocumented immigrants.  But unfortunately it combines these long-sought, one-time relief provisions with devastating changes in the permanent immigration laws that are almost uniformly ill-considered and punitive towards immigrants.

If enacted, these permanent changes would soon recreate the current large undocumented immigrant population — but make its members even more vulnerable than they are now.  The permanent changes also would leave most other future immigrants marginalized, with fewer attachments to the nation, fewer rights, and less ability to fully integrate into the political, social and economic mainstream.  They would move us away from the goals and principles that immigrants and their allies have fought to achieve since the beginning of the movement for comprehensive reform: family unity, worker rights, immigrant integration, and a more realistic future flow.

Among its flaws, S. 1639 would:

  • Channel undocumented immigrants into a precarious legal status, which would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by employers, unable to unite with their closest family members living abroad, and at constant risk of losing their legal status regardless of how long they have lived here, how much they have contributed to their communities, or how deep their roots are here.  Moreover, it is likely that a high percentage of undocumented immigrants would never achieve permanent residence under this program, given the high costs of maintaining the status and its many other stringent requirements, such as maintaining “continuous full-time employment” over many years.

  • Create a convoluted temporary worker program that would separate families, do little to end the exploitation experienced by current temporary workers, and — because it would not provide a path to permanent status — would amount to an enticement to come and remain illegally.

  • Create a new and untested point system favoring well-educated elites with little connection to the U.S. in place of our nation’s historic reliance on immigration based on family and employment ties.

  • Intensify immigration enforcement on the border and in the interior in a manner that would increase detentions, dramatically increase the penalties for immigration violations (including a 10-year bar from returning to the U.S. for overstaying a visa by even a single day), increase state and local enforcement of immigration laws, increase the missteps that can lead to deportation, and increase the likelihood of erroneous deportations.

  • Impose an electronic employment eligibility verification system that would require all workers to get confirmation from the government to work and that would be built on the foundation of a much smaller verification system — the Basic Pilot — that has been plagued by problems, including inaccurate databases, flawed design and employer misuse of the program.

  • Confiscate many immigrants’ Social Security contributions by barring immigrants from receiving credit for the work they performed and taxes they paid into the system before they obtained employment authorization.

NILC has never before opposed a bill that includes even the most moderate steps towards legalization of undocumented immigrants.  We have struggled internally and consulted widely before doing so now, and we greatly respect the many friends and allies who share our values and goals but have a different point of view about how to approach this bill.  They almost uniformly agree with us that the current bill needs major surgery.  Some, however, are willing to support passage in the Senate to keep the issue alive in Congress, in the hope that the needed improvements can be won in the House or in the House-Senate Conference Committee.  Others believe that the status quo is so intolerable that this bill, even with its harmful provisions, would be better than nothing.  We will continue to work closely with our friends to improve the bill as much as possible so long as it remains alive.

But until and unless such improvements are made, we cannot support this bill.  We have watched as it has become more and more punitive through the process to date.  This downward slide must be reversed, and we do not believe that this is likely to happen in the House or in Conference unless we first say no to a proposal that is as contrary to our basic principles as this one.

Here is a more detailed list and explanation of some of the most damaging provisions of S. 1639.