To immigrants, US reform bill is unrealistic
For the Senate reform plan to work as intended, illegal immigrants would need to embrace its rules – not opt for business as usual.
On any given day in the Home Depot parking lot in the San Fernando Valley, from 100 to 200 day laborers – almost all undocumented – show up hoping for work. Much of the talk Friday was of the new Senate immigration plan – particularly its proposal to let illegal immigrants step forward and start down the path to legalization and, eventually, US citizenship.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is unquestionably an opportunity to come out of the shadows and into the sunlight," says Jefe Rodriguez, a middle-age contractor who says he makes about $200 in a good week. "However, $5,000" – the price tag to apply for permanent residency – "is way too much money, mucho dinero. We don't have that kind of money."
This reaction – "yes, but ..." – is one sign that the reforms could fall short, even if they were to become law, because illegal immigrants themselves may prefer business as usual to a regimen of fees and journeys home. Their early reactions range from guarded optimism to good-humored laughter at the idea that the plan, as laid out, could actually work.
Still, the view in Washington, where the Senate is to debate the bill this week, is that this fragile but bipartisan agreement represents a significant step toward finding common ground on a issue that has divided the country in recent years. The legislation is not without its critics, generating criticism from hard-liners on both sides of the immigration debate, but it is lauded by many as an imperfect compromise.
A significant concern outside the Beltway is that the requirements of the proposed bill may prove too burdensome. Many immigrants can't conceive of how to scrape together the fines and fees necessary to enroll in the program, or distrust the requirement that the head of household return to his or her country of origin.
Still, some activists see it both as a good starting point and an opportunity for many immigrants to find security.
"It's immature to say nothing is better than something imperfect," says Emma Lozano, president of Pueblo Sin Fronteras in Chicago. "How can you say that to someone who's life is in the balance, or who has already been separated from their family?"
Ms. Lozano is critical of many aspects of the legislation – the steep requirements to apply for legalization, the future shift away from a family-based visa policy to a skills-based one, the temporary worker program with no hope of permanency. But she says it's an important step forward that she hopes can be improved through negotiations, and a real achievement given Washington's current political climate.
As the details of the plan emerged last week, anti-immigration groups have been the most critical, calling the proposal a capitulation rather than a compromise, and denouncing the new "Z Visa" program and its eventual promise of a green card as amnesty.
"This is just an amnesty dressed up with some provisions to make it more appealing to skeptics," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports immigration restrictions. In addition to the path to legalization for current undocumented immigrants, the proposal includes increases in legal immigration, he notes: "A compromise would be keeping one and getting rid of the other."
Pro-immigrant groups, meanwhile, have been more warily optimistic, hailing the agreement as an important achievement even as they lobby to alter some of the stricter measures, particularly the future changes that would shift preferences for visas from family connections to skills, education, and English language ability.
"That is an incredibly radical change, which undoes the basis of our legal immigration system," noted Cecilia Muñoz, vice president for the office of research, advocacy, and legislation at the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, in a press briefing.