Immigration Insanity in D.C.

While Senate debates useless details of proposed immigration legislation, potentially insidious portions of Hagel-Martinez compromise lurk, waiting to slip through

A vigil was held in front of Las Manitas Cafe on May 17 
for Anthony Soltero, an Ontario, Calif. teenager who 
killed himself after school officials told him he would be 
punished for an absence on the day of an immigration 
protest. Soltero's supporters say he was punished for 
activism; school officials allege he was merely cutting 
class.
A vigil was held in front of Las Manitas Cafe on May 17 for Anthony Soltero, an Ontario, Calif. teenager who killed himself after school officials told him he would be punished for an absence on the day of an immigration protest. Soltero's supporters say he was punished for activism; school officials allege he was merely cutting class. (Photo By Jana Birchum)

While the Senate spends hours debating symbolic, ultimately useless details of proposed immigration legislation – such as making English our "official" national language – controversial and alarming portions of S2611, known as the Hagel-Martinez compromise, wait to slip through. This is not to say that all this English-as-national-language talk is nothing to debate – among other things, the proposed legislation would mandate that all official forms be available only in English, making it even more difficult for newcomers and non-English-speakers to navigate an already daunting bureaucracy – but what of the Senate voting 83-16 to build 370 miles of triple-layered fence along parts of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border? Not to mention the administration's plans, as reported in The New York Times, of opening the construction of a "virtual fence" along the entire border up to bids from military contractors, such as Lockheed Martin – this from the same guy who swears he's not militarizing the border.

In a press conference called by the Rights Working Group in late April, members of the NAACP, Human Rights Watch, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee gathered to call attention to what they called "hidden traps" within the bill – specifically Title II, which deals with interior enforcement – that would lead to "unchecked power of the Executive Branch; result in long term separation of families; leave refugees, trafficking victims and other vulnerable populations unprotected; and bar thousands of well-intentioned immigrants from legalizing." Also of major concern are provisions for indefinite detention until deportation, denial of eligibility for citizenship based on a criminal record while at the same time criminalizing the use of false documents – even in the case of those seeking refuge, and the use of local law enforcement as immigration enforcement, further deteriorating the relationship between cops and the community they are serving and protecting.

Title II also has language that is threatening to the rights of all citizens: Section 204 provides for deportation based on "good, moral character." Seriously: "In determining an applicant's moral character, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General may take into consideration the applicant's conduct and acts at any time and are not limited to the period during which good moral character is required." Take note of who's making the character assessments, for crying out loud.

Sen. Mel Martinez said Monday that he expects his comprehensive immigration bill to get approval by the end of this week. (The prediction was made to a seventh-grade social studies class at Corner Lake Middle School, according to the Senator's home-state paper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. For what it's worth, Sen. Chuck Hagel said the same thing to CNN's Late Edition.) With the deadline for approval at week's end, there is sweat flying in opposition to the proposed three-tier system (in which the undocumented person must turn themselves in to Homeland Security, return to his or her land of origin, and then come back through legal means), led primarily by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who proposes an "orange card" system (in which folks who have lived here five years or more can get into the legalization stream without journeying all the way back home first).

Sending troops to the border is apparently no sweat for the great majority of our Senate: Senators voted 83-10 Monday in a symbolic show of support (symbolic since the Decider doesn't need their approval) for Bush's plan for the National Guard to beef up Border Patrol in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and they voted 73-25 Wednesday to limit further debate on the bill. Next, it's most likely off to battle with the House of Representatives, where House Republicans – vocal in their opinion that S2611 offers amnesty to criminals – await to make a stink.


To read the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 in its entirety go to thomas.loc.gov, then search under bill number S2611.

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