3rd Centavo: Guerra ~ S.744 Will Worsen Immigrant Situation

by Dr. Rey Guerra

The national mainstream media has been bringing a lot of attention to the United States Senate’s version of a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill (Officially: S.744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act). Here locally, a delegation of 5 congresspersons held a townhall meeting that I’m not sure adequately characterized the content of the bill or Houstonians’ attitude toward the bill. Although it’s refreshing to see CIR being covered in the mainstream media and by our local leaders, there’s a whole lot that’s not being discussed…like what’s actually in the bill.

What’s missing from the mainstream coverage is an analytical breakdown of the bill’s content. I say ‘mainstream’ because the analytical breakdown very much exists, it’s just not being discussed and/or being used as a basis for supporting or not supporting the bill.

From a moral, humane, or civil rights perspective, it’s an easy case to make that the bill will put everybody, including current US citizens, in a worse position.

From a political perspective, I’m not sure that there is reason for Republicans or Democrats to support the bill, or, I don’t see there being a sound analytical reason for either party to support it; not if each is basing their support on true party principles.

The following is my take on why the bill is so damaging. I downloaded a .pdf version of the bill that is 1198 pages long. Reading the entire bill is kind of daunting, and the painful badness of the bill is replete, so I’m breaking the piece up into several part in hope that light can be brought onto its darkness.

Part I: The Border Trigger

Although many estimates are higher, it seems the general consensus is that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. When all is said and done, “triggers” associated with the bill could result in as little as 2 million undocumented immigrants and as many as 6 million qualifying to become legal US residents (2 million under DREAM and AgJobs provisions). According to analysis from Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, of the remaining 9 million, as many as half would be left in limbo–either deported, pushed back into hiding, and most certainly in a worst socioeconomic state than they are in now. Schey later describes a grim scenario, that the triggers are set up in such a way that 20 years from now, it is very plausible that nobody will have benefited from the bill.

Of all of the onerous triggers, the one that is the most ambiguous, and the easiest to deny all that apply, is the border security trigger. The bill states that the DHS Secretary may not adjust the status of aliens until

  • a comprehensive border security strategy has been submitted to Congress and is substantially deployed and substantially operational. Substantially in this case is 90% effective. Note that the bill does not allow the border security strategy to even be defined by a commission any SOONER than 5 years after the enactment of the bill.
  • a southern border fencing strategy has been submitted to Congress, implemented, and is substantially completed. Substantially in this case is at least 700 miles of fencing, but may be more, at the discretion of Secretary.

Again, an issue here is that a commission to recommend a border security strategy can’t even issue recommendations on how to secure the border until 5 years after the bill is enacted.

Also, even after the report is issued, it is quite possible that a 90% effectiveness may not be achieved for 10 or 20 years or EVER…and remember, under this bill, no immigrant can achieve legal status until 90% effectiveness is achieved.

The ‘‘effectiveness rate’’ is the percentage calculated by dividing the number of apprehensions and turn backs during a fiscal year by the total number of illegal entries during such fiscal year. Analysis done by professors at UC San Diego suggest that the DHS does not currently collect the data to measure effectiveness, nor does it know how in the way that the bill requires. They also suggest that the difficulties involved in meeting the 90% border enforcement may be so formidable that the entire legalization program may be rendered moot.

With respect to the fence, no empirical evidence exists, anywhere, that suggests that building a fence slows, let alone stops, immigration rates. Immigrants are leaving a country and family that they love just as much as you and I love our family. If your wife and your children’s survival depends on your getting on the other side of a fence, I imagine that you will find a way to get over that fence.

The Border Trigger is bad, very bad, but it’s only one of many mechanisms in S.744 that will, by design, keep the vast majority of undocumented immigrants from achieving legal status and create a large sub-class; a sub-class of families and workers that can’t vote, are exploited for their labor, are discriminated against because of their being in a ‘legal’ pergatory, and can’t leave for fear of becoming ineligible to one-day, perhaps in several decades, become ‘legal.’

In Part II, I’ll get into the remaining triggers.

Dr. Rey Guerra is an engineer in the renewable energy field and is the Chair of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition, a group dedicated to resolving social, economic, and civic issues through education, training, and advocacy.

3rd Centavo is an opportunity for guest bloggers to sound-off (with a progressive bent) on various issues.

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