Thursday, March 30, 2006

Immigration Frustration

City Limits WEEKLY
Week of: March 27, 2006
Number: 528


Local grassroots immigration groups criticize national orgs for backing
Senate deal. > By Saurav Sarkar

National immigrant lobbying groups rejoiced earlier this month when
members of the Senate Judiciary Committee reportedly reached a tentative
agreement to include a guestworker program and conditional legalization
for some undocumented immigrants in the Committee's final immigration
"The Committee made a decisive move towards creating sound policy,"
wrote the Washington, DC-based National Immigration Forum (NIF), in a
press release. It is "a dramatic step forward towards a comprehensive
approach to immigration reform."

However, a wide range of grassroots worker and immigrant advocacy groups
in New York City are rejecting the current proposals before Congress,
including the rumored compromise now before the Judiciary Committee.
While most local groups embrace provisions to legalize undocumented
immigrants and reunite immigrant families, they say other parts of the
bills will simply make life harder for non-citizens. The proposals, the
groups say, fail to adequately protect workers' rights, and are too
strict on border control, and threaten to increase jailing and

The Senate proposals mean "more walls, more personnel, [and] more
funding for detention," said Kavitha Pawria, Legal and Policy Organizer
of Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), one of about 20 pro-immigrant groups
that make up the Immigrant Communities In Action (ICIA) coalition.

Instead of supporting the McCain-Kennedy bill like its DC counterparts,
ICIA has adopted a platform that calls on Congress to add to any pending
legislation "human and civil rights protections by reducing detention
and deportation, ending collaboration between the [Department of
Homeland Security] and public agencies...and ending deaths and abuses of
migrants at the borders." They are also asking for "Equal protection of
labor rights [for] all immigrant workers."

A separate coalition called Break the Chains includes New York immigrant
and worker advocacy organizations like National Mobilization Against
Sweatshops (NMASS), Chinese Staff and Workers' Association (CSWA), and
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), has also
criticized the current Congressional proposals and is trying to shift
the national debate. Instead of a guestworker program, it's urging a
repeal of "employer sanctions"-penalties for hiring undocumented

Meanwhile, however, the legislation rolls forward. If the Judiciary
Committee votes a bill to the full Senate this week, the legislation
would still be competing with a number of other proposals, including a
measure from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that would increase
grounds for deportation, fund an additional 4,400 border patrol agents
and contains no provision for legalizing undocumented workers.

Any Senate bill that gets approved will have to be reconciled with HR
4437, introduced by Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and passed
by the House of Representatives in December. That bill focuses on
increased policing, jailing, and deportation both at the border and in
the interior, prompting massive protests in Los Angeles, Chicago,
Phoenix, Milwaukee and other cities over the past two weeks. Among other
provisions, the House bill would make being undocumented a felony and
assisting an undocumented immigrant a crime.

"Obviously, we all need to defend against [bad legislation]," said
Benita Jain, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Defense Project of the
New York State Defenders Association (NSYDA), a group that serves as a
legal resource to criminal defense attorneys, advocates, and immigrants
fighting detention and deportation and is not part of either coalition.
"But the proactive agenda needs to include fixing the 1996 laws that
vastly expanded the grounds for detention and deportation of

George Tzamaras, director of communications at American Immigration
Lawyers Association (AILA), believes that local groups may be asking for
too much in a difficult political climate. "We very much understand that
McCain-Kennedy isn't a perfect bill...but [it] gives pro-immigrant
organizations a foundation, so in the near future we can advocate for
those other items."

Jei Fong, staff organizer with CSWA, disagrees. "The real function that
all these bills are serving is to create this atmosphere of fear, [to
say] that there's no point in really demanding anything, that it's not
possible in this political climate," she said. "The more...these
national groups give into that, the whole debate just shifts to the


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