You know that it’s too soon to start blogging about the new immigration deal when media across the country are coming up with such headlines as “Under fire from many sides,” “Faces tough road,” and “Drawing criticism from across the political spectrum.” The proposed immigration measure is lengthy and complicated, has Democratic and Republican senators divided, and faces an uncertain future once it reaches the House.

Senator Edward Kennedy, the party’s leader on the legislation, calls it “politics of the possible.” Meanwhile, conservative members of the Senate say the bill would enable 12-million illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. without any penalties – in other words, that dreaded term “amnesty.” But tell that to the affected immigrants! They see laws that would require them to pony up five thousand dollars, return to the country of their origin, then apply for reentry (green cards).

Logical questions are: where are all these illegal immigrants going to get five grand in cash, what happens when they cross the border into their homeland, how long is the waiting list waiting to reenter the U.S., and what legal protection can they count on during all of this maneuvering? The Washington Post, in Saturday’s editions, notes that the immigrants are just as suspicious as anyone about a merit-based system of immigration with new emphasis on job skills, previous education, and proficiency in English.

Conservatives on both sides of the aisle are said to be livid over the problems the new legislation will not fix. For example, who will build the schools and health facilities needed for the new influx of foreign nationals? A typical tactic that especially enrages conservatives is the practice of pregnant Mexican women who dash across the border illegally just in time to have their babies. Emergency rooms, by law, cannot turn those immigrants away, and when the baby is born he or she is automatically an American citizen, with all rights pertaining thereto.

The same emergency room access applies to any illegal immigrant who is sick or injured and shows up at the door. Again, by law, treatment must be administered, and at much higher cost than a normal admission in a non-emergency situation. John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, says immigrants who are held in limbo for an indefinite period creates two classes of workers, only one of which can exercise workplace rights (read medical coverage as part of the employment package). Sweeney says that the present level of illegal immigration drives down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards. The new proposals, says Sweeney, merely create massive guest worker programs from a different angle.

Democratic candidate Barack Obama says the proposed immigration bill needs a lot more work. “We should not replace one dysfunctional broken system with another equally troubled system,” says Obama. And his chief rival for the nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is also concerned about certain aspects of the proposal, saying she needs more time to review the document. “I want to see if it honors our nation’s principles and proud immigrant heritage while also respecting the rule of law.”

Fred Thompson, former U.S. senator from Tennessee, and a potential presidential candidate, said in a recent radio commentary that the real problem of illegal immigration is “our porous borders,” and he urged that our nation’s borders be secured before any legislation is considered. Thompson also criticized the red tape and confusion surrounding a bill “that may turn out to be a thousand page document.”

One must also ask, if this is truly the land of opportunity, what about those thousands of citizens living in countries that don’t border the U.S., who want to become Americans? A resident of Germany or New Zealand, or Madagascar cannot simply “walk across the border” as so many thousands of “close-in” immigrants have done. They are separated by thousands of miles and wide oceans that by definition demand that any path to U.S. citizenship becomes doubly demanding in terms of the letter of the law and amnesty after the fact.

It appears unlikely that the new immigration deal will pass in its present form. But whatever emerges from the “sausage factory” on Capitol Hill will result in some of the most radical changes in immigration law in more than 20 years. Let us hope that the final version will be fair and equitable to the millions who immigrated to the U.S. legally and in good faith.

– Chase. Hamil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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