When I heard last week that a number of U.S. Senators, including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla, had drafted a framework for immigration reform, I was cautiously optimistic. I even wrote under a quote on the subject from President Barack Obama, “While … immigration reform has year after year been stymied by political stalemate, it appears this year, some significant strides might be made.” How hopelessly idealistic and naïve I was.
Yesterday, I found a transcript of the framework, titled “Bipartisan Framework for Immigration Reform.” I read it, taking breaks to pace around, take deep breaths and rant to whomever would listen. Reading over the so-called bipartisan framework, I felt like I had been scammed.
What I had at first seen as a sign of hope for a more humane American future turned into a document that focused myopically-increased border security and took an unsympathetic and haughty tone in advocating a “tough but fair path to citizenship,” punishing undocumented immigrants with fines for back taxes before giving them probationary legal status. This isn’t an effort to extend rights and recognition to millions of immigrants. It’s a plan to spend even more resources on the bridge to nowhere that is border security and create a path to citizenship extending recognition in the form of punishment and rights in the form of probation.
I’ll say only this about the way these senators focused on heightened border security: When will the border ever be secure enough? America has already poured uncountable sums of money and resources into building walls taking the average immigrant 10 seconds to jump over. It’s already illuminated vast stretches of the Mexican-American border to the point that border country in the southwest has begun to look like a bona fide demilitarized zone.
If there’s one definite outcome of increased border security, it is the increase in human trafficking as immigrants turn to coyotes in their efforts to cross the border. And this so-called framework for comprehensive immigration reform begins with the goal, “to prevent, detect and apprehend every unauthorized entrant,” and follows with a discussion of unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance equipment and radio interoperability? Just as an aside, if anybody knows what the hell radio interoperability is, send me an email. I’d honestly like to know.
That this framework for reform took border security as a starting point, as if it were bringing something new to the table, was frustrating but not entirely surprising. What I found particularly abhorrent was its attitude toward immigrants themselves. After all, the issue of immigration truly revolves around America’s immigrant population – at least it should. America’s failure to recognize immigrants as contributing members of society deserving dignity and rights is downright embarrassing – it goes against everything America ought to stand for and is justified only by appeal to a narrow-minded, exclusive and alienating understanding of citizenship as something to be lorded over, stubbornly withheld from and dealt out sparingly to the undocumented population. A path to citizenship would be a step in the right direction. If only that’s what this framework put forward.
The authors of the framework explain they would “require those who came or remained in the United States without our permission to register with the government,” and settle “their debt to society.” (My italics, not theirs.) They add, “individuals with probationary legal status will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants,” and, “Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.” (Again, my italics, but it’s important to highlight this sort of bullshit.)
Their permission? Debt to society? They ask immigrants to come forward and identify themselves, while holding permission over their heads and expounding on their debt to society. Surely, this debt to society has not already been paid in years of work for pay below minimum wages and without benefit in un-policed workplace conditions. Can they be serious when they refer to the back of the line? This is supposed to be a serious conversation about immigration, and in an outline of legislation, we are witnessing the sort of condescension typical of grade school teachers chastising 10-year olds, or worse, Alabama bus drivers in the 1950s. Yes, I did just draw a Civil Rights comparison.
What’s more, this document goes on to say “agricultural workers … will be treated differently than the rest of the undocumented population because of the role they play in ensuring Americans have safe and secure agricultural products to sell and consume.” It continues, outlining a goal to “award a green card to immigrants who have received a Ph.D or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math,” reasoning that “It makes no sense to educate the world’s future innovators and entrepreneurs only to ultimately force them to leave our country at the moment they are most able to contribute to our economy.”
Now, I have nothing but respect for agricultural workers and Ph.D.s. They are incredibly hardworking people. They feed the world and make important contributions to scientific research and technological development. However, the idea of an immigration reform making explicit a preference for agricultural workers and scientists, and that sorts would-be immigrants based on their economic utility appalls me. Based on my understanding, this framework for immigration reform considers immigrants as an economic resource, rather than understanding them as human beings.
These senators are right. America’s immigration policy is broken, and it is badly in need of reform – but this isn’t the sort of reform it needs. If legislation goes through in the form advocated by McCain and Rubio, it would mean abandoning the immigration policy (or lack thereof) which we have today – essentially keep immigrants out and pretend they aren’t here already – and replacing it with a policy of not only keeping immigrants out but also punishing them for being here already. This would be catastrophic. We should be extending to undocumented immigrants dignity, recognition and rights, not fines for back taxes and probationary status.
Charles Godfrey ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in physics and math.