After years of Congressional silence on immigration, Washington is finally stirring toward legislative reform, driven by Democrats and Republicans angling for Latino and Asian votes. But the plans being concocted have already sharply diverged from the demands of the grassroots immigrant-rights movement.
So far, the White House and a bipartisan group of Senators have each floated similar outlines for reform that include a process for legalization or citizenship, recruitment of foreign-born workers into select industries, and strict “border security” measures. The details of leaked White House draft plan, prepared as a “back up” to the congressional proposals, were reported by USA Today this weekend. Despite criticism from conservatives, the draft also emphasizes stronger enforcement of immigration laws.
Though the various efforts all aim to fashion a “comprehensive” reform package, any resulting legislation will likely be anything but: While lawmakers squabble over how broad or narrow to make the legalization process, activists fear Congress may simply erect a bureaucratic dam in place of a broken border wall, let corporations control the floodgates, and still exclude millions of immigrants.
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Both President Obama and the Senate group endorse special visa programs for specific sectors that, not coincidentally, wield lobbying influence. The agricultural industry pushed for, and got, promises of visas for migrant farmworkers. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Silicon Valley moguls successfully advocated visas for science and technology professionals. Such limited visas are usually called “guestworker” programs, although the Washington proposals shy away from the controversial term.
According to talking points emerging from the White House and the Senate group, another special channel of relief may be opened for undocumented youth, following high-profile, media-savvy mobilizations to support the DREAM Act, which would legalize undocumented students. (In response to continued stagnation on the legislation in Congress, Obama issued a scaled-down administrative directive in August to defer deportations for DREAM-eligible youth).