The bipartisanship in Congress put politics before people when voting on unified immigration legislation.
The issue at hand began in 2005 when the House of Representatives passed the Sensenbrenner Bill, a resolution to erect a fence along the U.S. and Mexico border, declare illegal immigration a felony, and remove the possibility for immigrants to obtain worker visas. Proponents of the bill argue that illegal immigration creates violence at the borders and robs people of the U.S. of jobs. Opponents contend that these individuals are entitled to due process since they are in the United States. Currently, the subject is being debated in the Senate.
The argument came to a head last week, when bipartisan politics created a stalemate on a compromised immigration bill. The revised legislation would have given a chance for U.S. citizenship to millions of migrant workers while enhancing the security at the border. However, arguments between the two parties led to a shortage of votes for the newly compromised bill.
Immigration is an extremely contentious issue. The U.S. is a nation formed as a result of immigrants protesting their native country. The history of our immigrant ancestral history is taught in schools, shown in movies and popularized by the images of Ellis Island to be the idea of an American “melting pot.” It is startling to think that these rich histories have given way to racist and uneducated theories toward present-day immigrants.
Part of the problem with the immigration bill comes from inadequate funding. The U.S. is already running a serious national debt as a result of the war in Iraq. Much of the funding will have to come from border-states, which are financially unprepared to handle the responsibility of securing the border with Mexico. The budget for the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security is less than that of Nebraska, which doesn’t face the same threat of illegal immigration as a state on the United States border. The Sensenbrenner Bill faces the same fate as the No Child Left Behind Act, which is not federally funded and places the bill in the hands of the individual schools. Assigning the responsibility of securing the border with Mexico to the states clears the federal government of responsibility, yet strips Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico of funding that should be used for important state resources, such as education.
The biggest problem with the Sensenbrenner Bill is the complete disregard for due process to those who are residing in the country illegally. Many people have asked whether due process is only entitled to citizens. The legislation criminalizes the presence of illegal aliens as well as assisting those who are here illegally. Those who are charged with immigration crimes aren’t entitled to a trial to affirm their innocence or request citizenship. People of the U.S. who have committed the most evil crimes are entitled to due process. It is unfair and unconstitutional to take away someone’s right to a trial and fair representation just because they are visiting here, albeit illegally.
Another issue comes from the economic theory of supply and demand. The U.S. outsources jobs to other countries and provides citizenship to foreign visitors through the guest worker program. This program is backed by the Bush administration. On the other hand, our Southern neighbors from Mexico and Central America work in kitchens and farms in search of a better life than in their home countries. The employers are in search of employees who work harder for lower wages. Illegal immigrants aren’t the ones taking the highly-regarded college jobs of coffee barista, music entrepreneur, or paid activist for political non-profits. There are few American citizens complaining that they lost the hot job of non-union factory work to an illegal immigrant because the citizen was willing to be paid less. If blue-collar employers were held accountable for unfair employment practices, illegal immigration would decrease because of competition from U.S. citizens and mandatory obedience by employers.
Illegal immigration is not an easy issue to solve. Incidents of rape and violence along the U.S. and Mexico border have increased in the past 10 years. Unfair and discriminatory employment practices create an environment only slightly better than the slums from which the immigrants wanted to escape. These problems must be addressed by something other than a shortsighted bill criminalizing those who are seeking a better life.
April 10 was the National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice. I hope that the day comes when immigrants can indeed receive fair justice in this country. Right now, it appears that politics are more important than fairness and equality. The Sensenbrenner Bill is a tiny Band-Aid on a larger chasm of a problem.