Like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced an immigration bill last night just before the Senate shut down for its pre-election recess. There was little time to act on the bills — each was referred to committee — and they will likely both die there. But being on the verge of unveiling his own immigration legislation didn’t stop Hatch from criticizing Menendez’s timing: “Anything done in this time period is just for show,” he told Politico Tuesday.
While Menendez’s bill is most likely a political stunt to attract Hispanic voters and reconfirms the notion that the Democrats would rather play politics with immigration than put the weight of the party (or the administration) behind real reform, the bill does offer important improvements over this spring’s Schumer framework and is evidence that the increased organization of border communities and grassroots immigrant rights groups are having an effect on our representatives.
Last spring’s Schumer proposal could barely be called reform. Though it included AgJOBS and DREAM Act and provided limited avenues for legalization, the vast majority of the framework was enforcement heavy and furthered the Republican and Democrat-backed trend of criminalizing immigrant communities.
While Menendez’s bill keeps many of the enforcement provisions, it also includes key recommendations from border communities that limit the power of immigration authorities, improve Border Patrol training and provide for some level of oversight and abuse reporting.
Also notable is the reevaluation of Operation Streamline, a program that has funneled federal dollars towards prosecuting hardworking men and women who’s only crime was crossing the border without documents, while allowing real criminals to evade prosecution and conviction.
The bill also includes the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and the Uniting American Families Act.
While this legislation will probably not go any where, we must keep pushing for these improvements from our representatives in both parties and in the Obama administration. These improvements must not die with this bill.
As I wrote yesterday, if we are to see a serious effort for CIR that fixes our broken immigration system and upholds human rights and dignity, it will be a result of the immigrant rights movement’s increased power and influence through broadening our use of popular education, creating inclusive and broad analysis, and the development of creative tactics. The Menendez bill is evidence that we are going in that direction, but much more organizing is needed if we are going to push our representatives to back a serious reform effort and not just play politics with the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of Americans.