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Made to order for Corporate America
New bill won't help immigrants

By Lee Sustar | March 30, 2007 | Pages 1 and 2

A PROPOSED new bill is bringing the debate over immigration law "reform" to a new level.

The legislation would delay citizenship for undocumented workers for as long as 15 years; trample civil liberties and human rights with an identity tracking system and harsh enforcement; expand the numbers of guest workers with substandard rights; and force 12 million undocumented people to return to their countries of origin before their citizenship applications can be approved.

Those are some the key provisions of the Security Through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy (STRIVE) Act, sponsored by Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

The law wouldn't affect just immigrants. It would turn Social Security cards into a national identity card. "Creating a national ID card under the guise of a 'secured' Social Security card is not only financially and logistically daunting, it creates the possibility that we will become a society where 'your papers' will need to be presented at every turn," wrote Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office.

Major immigrant organizations and advocacy groups divided on the legislation. Prominent backers include the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the moderate civil rights groups that have been on the conservative wing of the immigrant rights movement.

"The STRIVE Act is an important first step for making our immigration system more humane while addressing border security, economic security, global competitiveness and re-establishing the rule of law," LULAC President Rosa Rosales said in a press conference.

The NCLR, which previously had broken ranks with most of the immigrant rights movement in calling for a guest-worker program, also hailed the bill. "This is an important step forward on the road to comprehensive immigration reform," said NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía.

A top official of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) criticized the Gutiérrez-Flake proposal for its requirement that undocumented immigrants "touch back" to their home countries, but still welcomed it as a framework for final legislation.

"In particular, [Gutiérrez and Flake] have addressed the need for smart enforcement strategies at the border and in the workplace, a path to earned citizenship, and reunification of families," SEIU Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina said in a statement. "They have also laid the framework for a more humane worker visa program that will help fill a growing pool of available jobs and protect the rights of all American workers."

The "worker visa program" is a euphemism for guest-worker proposals in previous failed legislation that were backed by the SEIU. The Gutiérrez-Flake proposal would allow 400,000 guest workers to enter the U.S. each year and allow them to seek citizenship after five years--but if they're unemployed more than 60 days, they lose that eligibility.

This would create a class of workers under pressure to tolerate employer abuse in order to gain an opportunity for citizenship in the future.

And by forcing the undocumented to wait six years before even applying for citizenship, plus years more for approval, the bill would create a huge pool of millions of workers who lack full citizenship rights--and are therefore more easily exploited.

The employer sanctions in the bill will also rebound to hit workers, as seen in the recent immigration raids on companies where workers' Social Security numbers don't match those on file with the government.

No wonder the National Immigration Forum (NIF)--which counts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce among its main members, along with the SEIU and UNITE HERE unions--embraced the Gutiérrez-Flake proposal.

"If enacted as proposed, it will be the toughest enforcement bill aimed at illegal immigration in American history," NIF Executive Director Frank Sharry said. "It will also be the most practical reform of our legal immigration system in American history. It will make our borders more secure, crack down on bad actor employers, and make it nearly impossible for those without proper papers to get hired. At the same time, it modernizes our legal immigration system by expanding controlled legal channels for those already here and those coming in the future."

These "controlled legal channels" for immigration are what big business is after--and if the legislation is amended in the House and Senate to create an even harsher guest-worker program and enforcement provisions, so much the better.

"If this is the starting point in the legislative process of negotiating and haggling for a 'comprehensive' immigration bill this year, it bodes very poorly for the immigrant communities of America," Nativo López, president of the Mexican American Political Association, said in a statement.

"You don't need to be a weatherman to see this tsunami of injustice coming down on our heads. We expected much better from Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, and we feel let down."

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