May 13, 2013
At a press conference a few days after the presidential election last November, President Obama said that he would take on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” that is, changes to the immigration law: “My expectation is that we get a bill introduced and we begin the process in Congress very soon after my inauguration” – his words.
And sure enough, four Republican and four Democratic senators began to meet in January to work out a bill. No final draft has been made public yet, but some details were reported by the media. And in the meantime, some details of a plan by Obama have been “leaked” to the press (as such news is usually presented to the public).
The most discussed part of the “reform” is the so-called “path to citizenship” for immigrant workers, who work and live in this country without papers. That may sound like a decent answer to the problem – as though the 11 million or so undocumented workers who are forced to lead a precarious existence in constant fear of being deported will finally get their full rights.
In fact, this “pathway” will be a very long and expensive process for undocumented workers, riddled with tough hurdles.
Obama’s proposal specifies that immigrants who have registered with the federal government wait eight years before being eligible to apply for a green card (legal permanent residency). According to the bill drawn up by the “Gang of Eight” senators, it would take 10 years or longer.
During these 10 years, immigrants will not be eligible for federal public benefits such as food stamps, public cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, no matter whether they have worked and qualified for them. And that eight or ten years is only the beginning. They still won’t be close to citizenship.
Immigrants who apply for legal status will have to pay back taxes. In other words, they will have to pay taxes a second time, or to try to prove that they have already paid taxes – meaning some of them would have to admit to having used a false Social Security number, a felony for which they could be deported!
And Obama, like the senators, says that immigrant workers must learn English before they can apply for legal status. Yes, workers in this country should know English, so that they can fully participate in the social life of the country. But this language requirement is another hurdle, another barrier in front of immigrant workers. Typically, undocumented workers work long hours in physical jobs that sap their energy. They live in neighborhoods where they have only limited access to English language culture. Women workers often do the housework and raise children also. When will these workers learn the language? And in what schools?
The companies that hire them, and exploit them doubly, certainly don’t provide language classes. All those budget cuts at all levels of government have led to cuts in these type of programs! In California, for example, Governor Brown just proposed to eliminate the state funding to school districts for adult schools – which is exactly where most immigrant workers learn language and other skills.
No, Obama’s proposal is not friendly to immigrant workers either.