By all appearances the first meeting held last Thursday to discuss comprehensive immigration reform has been a success, with many more lawmakers in attendance than was originally published by media outlets like La Opinión.
According to a summary by the White House, these were the government officials that were expected to attend the event to discuss ways to move forward with reform, a plan that would eventually provide citizenship to the 11 million people who are already living in the U.S..
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis
Deputy Attorney General David Ogden
Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS:
Senator Richard Durbin
Senator John Cornyn
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Jon Kyl
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Mel Martinez
Senator John McCain
Senator Robert Menendez
Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Jeff Sessions
Senator Arlen Specter
Representative Xavier Becerra
Representative Howard Berman
Representative Anh Cao
Representative James Clyburn
Representative John Conyers
Representative Joe Crowley
Representative Lincoln Diaz Balart
Representative Gabrielle Giffords
Representative Luis Gutierrez
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Representative Zoe Lofgren
Representative Adam Putnam
Representative Silvestre Reyes
Representative Loretta Sanchez
Representative Heath Shuler
Representative Lamar Smith
Representative Nydia Velazquez
Representative Anthony Weiner
While I'm personally disheartened to see that no Colorado lawmakers took part in the meeting (Jared Polis where were you?), there's no denying that outcome of this recent meeting would give immigration rights advocates the first hint of how the White House and Congress were going to approach the issue.
Here are a few points that immediately stood out to me:
A national identification system and a guest worker program –
Two of the most contentious issues in the debate for reform—which, by the way, has not yet been drafted and released—have come from the Senate, and more specifically New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Republican Sen. John McCain from Arizona. This shouldn't be surprising, considering the Senate will be the ultimate hurdle in passing reform.
Fear monger and Washington Post scribe Spencer S. Hsu, who just weeks ago claimed that there was "little new" in Obama's immigration policy and that "the changes he has promised to make are couched in nuance" (Obama and his representatives have made it very clear that he supports a path to citizenship for the undocumented. And with the newest meeting to start drafting new policy, how much more louder can you get?) is again trying to stir up feigned outrage by reporting on the mere possibility that "U.S. workers verify their identity through fingerprints or an eye scan."
In a "get tough" narrative that is not new, Hsu reported that Schumer is considering the idea of a national system that would in someway verify work documents as a trade off for a path to citizenship for the undocumented. While there are certainly reasonable concerns about this, especially when considering the disastrous E-Verify program and the collection of biometric data, it's important to remember that this is just a proposal. And I imagine, judging from the American Civil Liberties Union's quick response last Thursday denouncing the biometric verification system, such data collection will be an uphill battle against all groups concerned with civil liberties. It's definitely an issue that needs to be monitored as more details come out about the immigration legislation.
Another contentious proposal, as with the last immigration debate, revolves around the Republican push for a guest worker program of some sort, that would allow foreign workers to come to work in the United States. This is one of the proposals that draws less of a concern from me than it does for others. I think if a guest worker plan is what is needed to get the Senate to approve comprehensive reform, then that is part of the compromise that it takes to pass truly progressive legislation, so long as there are provisions to protect the rights of foreign employees.
While this will no doubt stick in the craw of labor unions that claim to support reform, I'd sooner take, oh say, 100,000 foreigners in the guest worker program if that meant legalizing the millions of undocumented people who are already working, living, and paying taxes in the United States. To me, that is simply a trade-off to passing reform in a Congress that is less progressive than the executive branch. Either way, it's better than working under the radar in dangerous and abusive environments that are rarely subject to federal inspection. Again, this will be another thing to monitor closely.
The pathway to citizenship -
While details are still being hammered out, it's looking like the administration will support a plan similar to the McCain-Kennedy legislation that was in last debate, and that means giving undocumented people in the United States a visa and a social security number that will allow them to stay in the country legally and eventually become citizens, after perhaps, paying additional fees of some sort. What this would do is bring 11 million undocumented people into the sunlight, and away from putative policies like ICE roundups, immigration detention, and Secure Communities database initiatives that break families apart and often have the potential to abuse human and civil rights. If true, this is a step in the right direction.
They must learn English -
This has been another popular claim by both the right and the left, and something I find pretty much a non-issue meant more to curry political favor from constituents. While some immigrant rights supporters are always correct to be suspicious when anyone starts spouting about the necessity of English (which, from a true linguistic perspective, is no better a language than any other language in the world) I don't in anyway see an effort by those in power to try and eradicate the other languages that immigrants speak in their culture. (As if they could ever do that to Spanish speakers to begin with, with an estimated 34 million people in the United States who speak the language anyway.) Yeah, it's very useful to know English in the United States, but that doesn't mean that immigrants can't speak Spanish, or Chinese, or any other native tongue. In fact, Obama has even said that "everyone should be bilingual."
In summary, there are a lot of important issues to look at when it comes to reform, and it will be that vigilance that pays off when Congress starts debating the issue late this year or the next.