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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Draft Recommended Strategic Program For National Immigration Reform

by Peter Schey of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation

This draft proposal follows the structure of a resolution on comprehensive immigration reform adopted at the 2006 National Convention of the League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC). That resolution was not divided into two phases as suggested below. The positions recommended below also appear to be consistent with the positions of community-based organizations throughout the country concerned with immigration reform, including labor, religious, inter-faith, legal service, social service, and organizing groups, as well as local and regional coalitions of these groups.

In terms of strategy, we suggest that advocates and the Congress consider a two-step approach, first addressing proposals that may be considered on their own merits without being linked to more controversial "comprehensive" immigration reform, and then, after serious study and consultation with interested groups and migration experts, addressing long-range comprehensive reform.

In summary, we recommend a program to (1) immediately address legislative and administrative proposals (discussed below) that will not provoke a large public backlash and that stand on their own merits independent of "comprehensive" reform, (2) support the formation of non-governmental committees and a Congressionally appointed commission to study the highly complex issues involved in formulating comprehensive immigration policy (several issues requiring intense study are identified below), (3) immediately organize (and if necessary litigate to achieve) expedited naturalization and voter registration campaigns so new citizens may actually vote in 2008, (4) educate and support candidates in 2008 who support rational immigration reform, and (5) work with Congress to draft and enact comprehensive immigration reform (discussed below). This is a longer-term plan than we and many others would prefer, but a solid foundation for legislation, public education, a decrease in the present level of anti-immigrant sentiment, and an environment in which Presidential politics are not involved, may be the conditions needed for comprehensive reform that is both in the national interest and protects the human rights of migrants.

Attorneys and advocates are encouraged to help draft proposed statutory language. We will schedule a conference call the week of November 20 and may thereafter also schedule a meeting to further discuss these issues and define and divide the task of drafting concrete proposals. If interested, please reply via email with your contact information.

PHASE 1-- FOR IMMEDIATE CONSIDERATION BY CONGRESS AND THE ADMINISTRATION:

  1. Restore 245i relief for immigrants with an avenue to legalize status

    Draft and support immediate legislation to restore INA 245i so that tens of thousands of immigrants with an existing avenue to adjust their status through family members or jobs approved by the Department of Labor (for which no U.S. workers are available) may adjust their status rather than remaining here in illegal status. Consider imposing "community service" as an alternative to heavy "fines" for lower-income eligible applicants.


  2. Naturalization delay reduction program

    In order to maximize the number of immigrants who become citizens and will be eligible to vote in the important 2008 elections, develop and draft legislative and administrative proposals for rapid and massive reductions in the long delays now experienced in completing naturalization cases. Seek to significantly reduce inefficiency in and delays caused by security checks.


  3. Visa backlog reduction program

    Support a substantial increase in funding for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service ("CIS") and U.S. Consulates and modifications of administrative policy to effect a massive reduction in all backlogged immigration-related applications with the goal that no application or petition for immigration benefits filed by eligible applicants would take more than one year to adjudicate. Seek to significantly reduce inefficiency in and delays caused by security checks.


  4. Immediate legalization for Central Americans

    Draft legislation and support immediate adjustment of status for several hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees who many years ago came to the United States, many fleeing political and economic conditions encouraged by the United States, and applied for legal status under several programs including asylum, NACARA, ABC, and TPS. The goal should be to immediately end the twilight zone temporary status these immigrants have endured for up to thirty (30) years.


  5. Restore judicial review stripped in 1996

    Draft legislation and support immediate modification of administrative policies to restore the ability of the federal courts-severely restricted by Congressional amendments enacted in 1996-- to review and correct unlawful decisions by the Department of Homeland Security's immigration bureaus regarding immigrants both in the form of national policies or decisions in individual cases.


  6. Repeal the 3- and 10-year bars

    Draft legislation to repeal the 3- and 10-year bars which each year block tens of thousands of immigrants with existing avenues to legalize their status through family members or jobs approved by the Department of Labor (for which no U.S. workers are available) from obtaining adjustment of status because they resided in the U.S. without valid visas for more than 6 months (3-year bar) or 12 months (10-year bar).


  7. Enact an Ag-JOBS bill

    Review and offer improvements to and support the prompt enactment of the Ag-JOBs bill.


  8. Enact the DREAM Act

    Support prompt passage of and draft suggested improvements to the DREAM Act so that defined undocumented students may legalize their status rather than remain here in undocumented status.


  9. Creation of Select Commission on Immigration Policy

    Consider supporting and drafting legislation for the creation of a Select Commission on Immigration Policy to investigate issues relating to and recommend proposals for long-term comprehensive immigration reform (several of the issues that need intense study are identified below).
Advocates and Congress must also consider whether immediate goals are more likely to be realized if proposed and considered as a package, or separately (each promoted on its own merits).

PHASE 2 - LEGISLATIVE GOALS FOR LONG-TERM COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM THAT MAY BENEFIT FROM IN-DEPTH STUDIES (INCLUDING SUBSTANTIAL CONSULTATION WITH MIGRATION EXPERTS) BEFORE BEING FINALIZED:

  1. Address underlying causes of undocumented migration

    Investigate and support the development of programs that encourage and support economic development in identifiable major sending communities as a major tool in reducing future undocumented migration.

  2. Visa allocation restructuring

    Support and develop a revised visa program that far more realistically tracks the actual demand for visas based upon the demands for labor in the U.S., family reunification, and persecution and torture. This may well involve repealing the unsuccessful per country quotas and returning to a visa issuance system (pre-Eilberg law) that has a rational relationship to the realities of the demand for labor in the U.S., family reunification, and flight from persecution.

  3. Protection of U.S. labor.

    In order to fully protect U.S. workers and reduce to the maximum extent possible the unlawful exploitation of immigrant workers, investigate and support revisions to U.S. laws so that documented and undocumented immigrants have full and complete access to protective labor and health and safety laws.

  4. Detention and removal hearing issues

    As a matter of human and civil rights, and to avoid erroneous deprivations of rights, develop laws that do not permit the indefinite detention of immigrants except in circumstances involving the national security or safety of the community, support the right of apprehended immigrants who are not a flight or national security risk to release on reasonable bail, fair removal hearings, and the right to pursue administrative appeals without waiving grants of voluntary departure.

  5. Special protections for vulnerable immigrants

    Support and draft legislation to repeal existing provisions that harshly impact on vulnerable immigrants including asylum seekers, unaccompanied juveniles, victims of violent crimes and trafficking, and survivors of domestic violence, and support legislation to improve reasonable protections offered to such migrants in light of their uniquely vulnerable status.


  6. Revisit local police involvement in immigration reform and drivers license issues enacted in the REAL ID Act

    Reconsider and possibly repeal or amend provisions in the REAL ID Act that promote local police involvement in immigration law enforcement (for the most part against the recommendation of local law enforcement agencies), and impose on the States restrictions concerning who may or may not receive drivers licenses.

  7. Reconsider and as necessary amend laws relating to the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Within the context of a comprehensive reform package, the recommended structure of border enforcement may change substantially. Support and develop amendments to existing laws to reduce militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, reduce deaths along the border, and promote humane and rational border enforcement involving detection, arrests, and removal rather than thousands of deaths, assaults, and related violence now endemic along the U.S.-Mexico border, destruction of eco-systems, and routine violations of the rights of U.S. residents and citizens.

  8. Legalization

    A realistic visa allocation system may dramatically reduce the need for a legalization program. Nevertheless, a legalization program should be a component of immigration reform to avoid the build-up of a large undocumented population.

Develop a single-tier continuing (not a "one-time") program granting lawful resident status for undocumented immigrants who have resided in the United States for a reasonable length of time and have in effect become permanent residents of this country, shown a commitment to its values, contributed productive labor or in other ways contributed to their communities, do not pose a national security threat, and have not engaged in any serious criminal conduct. A legalization program may require that immigrants perform a reasonable number of hours in community service rather than imposing high penalty fees which many hard-working immigrants with families to support are unable to afford.

Development of a truly comprehensive immigration reform will require far more study and knowledge than either advocates or the Congress seem to currently possess. Among other fundamental issues that must be understood before any rational policy can be formulated, are the following -
  1. What are the current economic, social, and political conditions giving rise to migration from identifiable major sending communities, and to what extent and how (if at all) may these specific conditions be addressed?

  2. How may the role played by the U.S. demand for migrant labor be addressed in a manner that reduces undocumented migration and protects U.S. workers?

  3. How has implementation of NAFTA impacted migration and may NAFTA provisions be reinterpreted or renegotiated to reduce undocumented migration? What are the benefits or adverse consequences of recognizing the U.S. border relationship with Mexico in formulating a unilateral or a bi-national policy?

  4. To what extent do present visa numbers and per country quotas drive up undocumented migration, and what are the benefits or adverse consequences of modifying visa allocations to realistically reflect family reunification and labor market demand? What is the best method to measure the demand so that policy decisions can be made regarding how much of the realistic demand to meet?

  5. What are the benefits or potential adverse consequences of promptly granting lawful permanent resident status to several hundred thousand Central American refugees languishing in an assortment of temporary federal programs for several decades?

  6. What is a reasonable estimate of the number of undocumented migrants residing permanently in the U.S., and what types of programs would legalize different numbers of migrants in this population? What impact (economic, social, etc.) would the U.S. likely experience if different percentages of this population were legalized?

  7. What are the results of 20 years of border militarization and criminalization, what has been the impact on migrant flows, the safety and security of border communities, the environment, the human rights of migrants, and the national security?

  8. To what extent are existing major provisions in the federal immigration law having adverse or positive impacts on immigration control and increasing or decreasing the size of the undocumented population?
Until these questions are carefully considered, and answers obtained and understood, comprehensive immigration reform will unquestionably have unintended consequences and likely do about as well as the execution of U.S. policy in Iraq.

Those interested in assisting in the drafting specific legislative proposals along the lines recommended above, please send email to pschey@centerforhumanrights.org


About The Author

Peter Schey is President & Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation. The Foundation serves as a resource to social, legal, religious, and community-based groups throughout the United States and in other countries involved in civil and human rights advocacy.

The CHRCL operates several projects including the Voces Unidas Project (www.vocesunidas.org) that currently represents 300 immigrant domestic survivors in four states (CA, AZ, TX, and IL). We hope to expand the project nationwide in 2006. Please feel free to email CHRCL Executive Director, Peter A. Schey, with any questions regarding the lawsuit or the services provided by the Voces Unidas Project: pschey@centerforhumanrights.org


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.


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