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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

August, 2007



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Immigration Reform: Waiting Until Next Time
By Domenico Maceri

In May of 2006 huge demonstrations occurred across major American cities to protest the Sensenbrenner Bill which would have turned undocumented workers into felons. The legislation was approved by the GOP-controlled Congress in December of 2005 but eventually went nowhere. The recent attempt by the U.S. Senate to deal with immigration was a better bill but not by much. The improvement was pushed by Democrats who took over both the House and the Senate in the midterm election of last November.
But even with a Democratic majority in both legislative bodies and the support of the White House, the Senate plan failed.

The status quo won. Ironically, it was a victory for undocumented workers who might get a better deal with a likely stronger Democratic presence in Washington in the near future. At the same time the right wing of the GOP could claim victory for having stopped the "amnesty bill."

The extreme wing of the Republican Party made so much noise about the evils of the proposed legislation that some might have gone too far. A number of legislators and officials received threats, some of which ended up at the FBI for investigation. The loudness of right wing talk radio reflects a certain element of racism which has always been present in American history. The "hook" this time was the fact that the legislation would have benefited "illegals," "criminals" who broke our laws. The fact that this "crime" would not have been possible without the tacit U.S. cooperation does not seem to enter the mind of some Americans.

Nevertheless many Americans take a realistic look at the situation. A survey by the Los Angeles Times found that a significant majority of Americans supported the idea of earned citizenship for undocumented workers if applicants had no criminal record, paid taxes, and learned English.

But the majority of these people were not loud enough to push for passage of comprehensive immigration reform. It was the vocal minority of Americans whose voices were heard by GOP senators and also in part by Democratic ones.

Although undocumented workers "lost" in the failed attempt at immigration reform, they in fact may have gained since the bill was not that immigrant friendly. It was certainly much better than the nasty Congress bill of 2005. But so many elements which were aimed as a carrot to garner GOP support were unpalatable. These include the very high fees to begin the path for permanent residency, the fact that obtaining the Z visas meant leaving the country, and of course the priority to skills instead of family reunification in the awarding of green cards.

If the U.S. Senate had passed the bill, it would not have survived in the House of Representatives. Although most Democrats in the House of Representatives would have supported it, some would have joined Republicans and shot it down, fearing the label of voting for "amnesty." Members of Congress have to be reelected every two years and voting for "amnesty" would be seen as a major stain that would be difficult to justify to voters.

Immigration is important to the U.S. but it's always controversial. Although Americans admire immigrants of the past, contemporaries have always struggled to accept newcomers. In the past this rejection was justified with the idea that immigrants were different, would not learn English, would not integrate, ate strange foods, and a number of other reasons. Now the reason is that newcomers are illegally in the country. When you really get right down to it, the negative feelings towards immigrants are not very different from those of the past.

After eight years of a Republican presidency and twelve years of GOP-controlled legislative government, Americans seem to be tired and looking for a change as the midterm elections demonstrated. For undocumented workers the best thing will occur when a Democrat occupies the White House and the legislative branch is also firmly in the hands of Democrats.


Domenico Maceri ([email protected]), PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. His articles have appeared in many newspapers and some have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.



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