Senate’s Gang of Eight Immigration Reform Proposed Legislation Rejected

May 17, 2013

On Saturday, May 11, a Forum on Humane Immigration Reform was held as the second phase to the National Summit on Immigration Reform held on March 16, both held at the University of California, Riverside. The Forum was facilitated by students from Professor Armando Navarro’s Chicano Politics class under his and Maria Anna Gonzales’s supervision. The Forum, attended by some 150 persons, was timely because it was held when the Senate is conducting hearings on the Gang of Eight’s proposed legislation on immigration reform.

The debate was led by UCR political scientist, Armando Navarro; keynote speaker, attorney and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, Peter Shay; and main speaker, Tucson attorney and executive director of the Coalition for Human Rights, pro-immigrant advocate, Isabel Garcia. The timely debate included a panel of five: MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas Saenz; UCR Department of Sociology Professor Ellen Reece who is also Chair of Labor Studies; Pitzer College Department of Sociology, Professor Emeritus, Jose Calderon; and, Executive Director of Centro de Aztlán, Chicago, Illinois Carlos Arango.

Peter Schey argued that racism is impeding efforts to create a pathway to citizenship. Moreover, that the Senate’s proposed legislation fails to produce a quick process for legalization; instead, it focuses on “border security,” requiring that 95 percent of the southern border be secured before citizenship discussions can even begin. He was hypercritical of the Gang of Eight because they have failed to hold any public meetings or hearings on their proposed legislation. “It’s more red than blue,” stated Schey, referring to the political party dominating the immigration reform debate.

Schey said, “If Mexicans were white, immigration reform would not be an issue,” referring to that nobody cares about the Canadian border because those crossing are white. He said, “There is no discussion to spend billions to close the Canadian border or how to deal with the three million people who have overstayed their visas.” He said xenophobia and racism are taking on a prominent role in the immigration reform debate and that the country’s right-wing forces are not interested in legalization but instead on enforcement. He went on to say that powerful economic interests are at play, driven by their having access to cheap labor. Furthermore, that politically, Democrats are using immigration reform to expand their constituency and Republicans fear this. Also, that too many progressive and human rights groups have been co-opted.

Isabel Garcia echoed many of the themes Schey touched upon. She said that under the Gang of Eight proposed immigration reform legislation “the undocumented are being criminalized.” On the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, she stated, that it is simply “good business, producing jobs for border enforcement.” She referenced that the political narrative is being controlled by Republicans who describe comprehensive immigration reform as mainly border security.

Professor Armando Navar-ro, author of the book, “The Immigration Crisis,” provided several observations. He stated that the struggle for Comprehensive Humane Immigration Reform is at a dangerous political historical juncture, where it is in extreme jeopardy of not being realized this year. He unequivocally rejected the Gang of Eight the propose immigration legislation. In a Forum handout he wrote, “It is too draconian, anti-immigrant, restrictive, unjust and inhumane and must either be dramatically amended or allowed to be defeated by the hostile nativist, “Know-Nothing /Do-Nothing Republican Party.”

He added, “the argument adopted by some that “something is better than nothing” must be categorically rejected because the bill’s consequences are simply too severe.” He further stated that at this time, there are three possible scenarios for immigration reform. “One, a rather long shot, the Gang of Eight legislation passes, after going through a serious amending process that weakens legalization and further strengthens border security.” As a result, today’s anti-immigrant climate of fear and terror that pervades the country would be heightened. “Two, the Gang of Eight legislation is defeated as a result of a similar scenario that defeated immigration reform in 2007, a political product of convoluted and conflictive intransigent clashing political interests.” The effects would be such that Republicans would take on a “piece meal approach” to immigration reform and nativist persecution of undocumented migrants via the further passage of ethnic cleansing state laws and local ordinances would increase. “Three, at this time almost a complete improbability, would be the passage of comprehensive humane immigration reform.” He gave as a major reason the evident failure of the Latino community and pro-immigrant forces to mount an effect nationwide campaign for Comprehensive Humane Immigration Reform. He alluded to the Forum’s poor attendance and the failure of May Day mobilizations to mobilize hundreds of thousands as it was done in 2006.

Navarro said, “As Latinos, we are being plagued by apathy, indifference, and complacency. Where is our anger and frustration?” He said, “It is symptomatic of Latino’s disorganization and leadership crisis that pervades our overall social change and political empowerment struggles.” Disappointed, he said, “This is evident here at UCR because for all the work done to hold this forum, we failed, UCR’s 4,000 plus Latinos did not attend.” Only about 10 students beyond those of Navarro’s class attended; secondly, few Latinos from the community attended, regardless that they comprise nearly 50 percent of both San Bernardino/Riverside counties population.

The panelists when asked by former Congressman Joe Baca to state their view on whether the Gang of Eight legislation would pass, Isabel Garcia, Carlos Arango, Professor Reece said “No.” Attorney Saenz gave it a 55% chance of passing. And Professor Calderon said it would pass. In response, Baca expressed his reservations why and said that he felt that it would not. The respondents and comments made by the public all were against the proposed Senate legislation.

Maria Anna Gonzales reported that specific follow-up steps were unanimously agreed upon: (1) Both the Summit’s and the Forum’s findings will be posted to the Alliance for Immigration Reform (AIR []) site. (2) An on-line petition stating the agreed-upon rejection of the current Gang of Eight proposal, as well as both the Summit’s and the Forum’s participants recommendations for what we believe to be just immigration policy. The goal being, getting hundreds of thousands of on-line signatures from throughout the country that will be sent to all the appropriate parties in Washington, D.C. and appropriate state elected officials, since they will have lobbying power; (3) That a national task force be established to carry out the lobbying efforts on this issue and perhaps others pertinent issues in the future; and, (4) That Obama’s trip to Illinois be used as a national lobbying day for the AIR petition drive, as well as other mobilization activities.

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