Immigration Reform 2013: Attempts At Reform Are Politics As Usual

With Congress back in session, the bipartisan “gang of eight” are expected to announce their plan to reform immigration policy sometime this week. Said bill will seek to come to a decision on the status of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Rather than framing the legislation around effective, commonsensical, and civilized policy, it seems the gang of eight is playing politics as usual.

When considering whether Congress should pass a plan that includes a pathway to citizenship, economic concerns arise among senate leaders, but these concerns are largely based on myth. For beginners, the estimated 11-12 million undocumented workers in the United States are already doing much of the low wage work. In fact, the Brookings Institute shows that on average, immigrants enhance American workers’ standard of living by increasing wages and lowering prices for consumers.  Additionally, the evidence suggests that immigrants and U.S. born employees tend not to contend for the same work.

While the estimated 13-15 year time span for citizenship may be politically effective in setting the mind of the outraged American at ease, the earlier immigrants gain full citizenship the earlier they are able to make use of services open to citizens and contribute a larger sum to GDP growth.

Outside of the economic argument lies the humane one. The majority of immigrants come to this country because it is the land of opportunity where they can escape discrimination, poverty, and class obstruction. The lengthy time span for obtaining citizenship evokes the thought of exploitation of these immigrant laborers. According to past leaked reports, the LA Times writes that upon being granted temporary legal standing, “immigrants would be allowed to work but would be barred from receiving federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance.” While some politicians may call that “reform,” I say it sure leaves room for abusive labor practices.

This is not the least bit surprising considering the amount of lobbyist money being spent on Congress. Senator Charles Schumer, the leading Democrat on the reform negotiations, has recently come under fire by activists for receiving over $100,000 in donations from the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America, the two largest private prison companies in the United States.

The connection? Private prisons draw large profits when their number of prisoners increases and, in this case, immigrants make for the perfect target. While AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is a key player in the negotiations, thenature of this legislation, which contains much potential profits for companies, may very well likely be heavy with loopholes.

Many advocates for immigration reform claim that while the leaked framework may not be perfect, it will end the fear of deportation among immigrants. Although this may be true, with the Republican Party’s desperate need to win over Hispanic voters, the bar is sure set pretty low.