Coverage of President Bush's immigration reform bill, currently before the U.S. Senate, has mostly concentrated on politics—the way it's managed to alienate the core Republican base while also earning opposition from Democrats. The bill would create a path to citizenship, or at least temporary legal employment, for some of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. But taxes and fees more than double under the proposal, and the entire legalization process depends upon certain "triggers" being met—for instance, comprehensive control of the border by the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants could be waiting a long time for that to happen.
Marisol Jimenez McGee is advocacy director and lobbyist for El Pueblo, a statewide, Raleigh-based group supporting Latinos. She says the Latino community is also conflicted about the bill.
Is there anything that's good about this bill?
Yes. One of the good things we can say is that it demonstrates a move toward elements of comprehensive immigration reform and a move away from enforcement-only models. We're seeing a recognition that immigration reform has to include some type of path to legalization for the undocumented, there needs to be enough available visas to reunify families, and that future workers will need a legal way to come into the country.
But doesn't this bill move away from the old system of reuniting families toward a system that grants visas based on "points"?
That's where this all gets really complicated. This current proposal from the Senate is mainly an employment-based immigration system. The family-based immigration system will only be for spouses and children and eliminate siblings of U.S. citizens. It will also put a cap on the number of visas for spouses, children and parents of legal U.S. citizens.
It essentially creates an expanded temporary guest worker program with few options for families to be able to come with those guest workers. They would have to be able to show that they have health insurance for themselves and their families and show that they could support their families at 150 percent above the poverty level. The average legally present migrant worker in the United States makes between $6,000 and $8,000 a year.
Overwhelmingly the majority of points you can get are for being highly educated, fluent in English, and in a more professional employment situation. It heavily favors a class-based system of immigration. As an organization that represents our community, we believe that's completely unacceptable.
What are you hearing from people in North Carolina about this bill overall?
There's a lot of turmoil about how to move forward. There's a desperate need for relief in our community. Deportations and raids have been escalating every month. People in local immigrant communities are afraid of leaving their homes. They're afraid of their local police. They're losing their family members. They're going to court for a traffic ticket and the next thing you know, they're going through deportation.
Are there any communities in the state that are particularly hard-hit?
Yes. The workers at Smithfield, a number of them were picked up. And the Mecklenberg County sheriff's department is the first county in North Carolina to enter into a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. That means they are actively involved in the deportation of undocumented immigrants in that county; more than 1,000 have been charged or deported so far.
When you have an entire community afraid to call the police when they're victims of crimes or witnesses of crimes, that not only makes them more vulnerable, it makes anyone around that community more vulnerable because community policing is what makes local law enforcement more effective.