Thumbnail image for grand vin Lafite.jpgWhile most of the nation fixated this week on black and brown American heroes in Cleveland, the attention of immigration advocates diverged.  They vacillated between delight with the imploding anti-immigration conservative movement and nail-biting over votes on a flood of amendments to the massive, bipartisan Gang of Eight bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Schadenfreude abounded over the fall of Jason Richwine, proponent of the discredited eugenical theory of low-IQ Hispanic immigrants and co-author of an error-filled study, “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer.” Apparently gobsmacked by the torrent of criticism, Richwine resigned from the Heritage Foundation, which promptly distanced itself from the man, if not his report. 

Frissons of excitement intensified with the prospect that Richwine’s fall would, at long last, also unmask the rantings of nativist groups, too long disguised as principled think tanks, and cause Republican pragmatists and evangalelicals to reject the wingnuts on their party’s fringe. If anyone needed convincing of the link between opposition to immigration reform and white supremacists, then Rachel Maddow’s tour de force report vaporizes all doubt:

 

To be sure, there remain troubling questions about whether the current immigration system in America is inherently racist in its design, its effect or its enforcement, as this sometimes heated debate involving Unai Montes-Irueste, who writes for Politics 365, and immigration lawyers, Susan Pai and David Leopold, reveals:

 

Whatever the right answer (I could argue for all three positions), that debate will be left to historians if an enlightened form of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is enacted this year.  That won’t happen, however, if the poison-pill pharmacists on the right are allowed to administer a deadly dose.  

Take for example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R. TX) who proposes a fatal amendment to bar any path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Or consider the Downton Abbey amendment offered by Sen. Mike Lee (R. UT) which would allow Americans to hire the undocumented but only if they served (apparently only the 1%) as “cooks, waiters, butlers, housekeepers, governessess, maids, valets, baby sitters, janitors, laundresses, furnacemen, care-takers, handymen, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs of automobiles for family use.”

It’s not only about preventing bad amendments but also preserving and improving on good ones.  Take for example an amendment that markedly improved on the Gang of 8 version which would merely have expanded the jurisdiction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ombudsman to also cover U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  Proposed by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D. HI) and passed by voice vote, Section 1114 of the CIR bill creates a new “Ombudsman for Immigration Related Concerns” with the power to:  

  • receive and resolve complaints from individuals and employers and assist in resolving problems with the immigration components of the Department [of Homeland Security].
  • conduct inspections of the facilities or contract facilities of the immigration components of the Department.  
  • identify areas in which individuals and employers have problems in dealing with the immigration components of the Department.  
  • determine whether an individual or employer is suffering or is about to suffer an immediate threat of adverse action as a result of the manner in which the immigration laws are being administered, and intervene as necessary.  
  • propose changes in the administrative practices of the immigration components of the Department to mitigate [identified] problems . . .
  • review, examine, and make recommendations regarding the immigration and enforcement policies, strategies, and programs of [CBP], [ICE], and [USCIS].
  • monitor the [three agencies' compliance] with law, regulations, and policy. [and] 
  • request the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security to conduct inspections, investigations, and audits.

Consider also various amendments not yet voted on which are proposed by Sen. Leahy (D. VT). One would modernize and make permanent the EB-5 regional center program for immigrant investors. Others would enact family-based immigration benefits for same-sex couples by way of the “Uniting American Families Act of 2013” and another measure would recognize for immigration purposes all marriages valid under the laws of any state or country, including same-sex nuptials.

Ponder as well the amendments long espoused by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R. IA) who would add the heavy hands of hamstringing regulations and enforcement to the H-1B and L-1 bill, in ways even worse than the bad ideas already in the G8 proposal.  These amendments (Grassley 57 to 67), along with the base bill, would stifle innovation not only in the tech industries but they would also essentially declare illegal the modern business practice of global sourcing of services on which so many American companies and customers rely.

The point of this post is not that revelry over the fall of xenophobes and eugenicists is wrong; rather, it is that celebrations of that sort are unaffordable luxuries. That wine is just too rich at this late hour.  

Advocates for enlightened CIR must instead keep eyes peeled on the Senate Judiciary Committee and its fast-and-furious consideration of amendments which will profoundly reshape in ways unforeseeable the rules for employment- and family-based immigration.  This week’s action will focus on Title IV which would transform (in good and bad ways) many of the most heavily-used nonimmigrant visa categories and create new classifications whose contours will be decided in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as Memorial Day. 

So save your gloating for another day.  Now, keep the Congressional feet to the fire. Let the word go out in Twitter feed and Facebook update, in radio/TV talk shows on cable, broadcast and satellite networks, in blog posts and letters to the editor.  Let calls overflow the capacity of the Capitol Switchboard.  We need a modernized immigration system that functions well; not one hampered by bureaucratic red tape and heavy-handed, guilty-until-proven-innocent enforcement. It must spur 21st Century innovation and job creation in the private sector. And it must be true to our bedrock values of family unity and refuge for the persecuted. From your mouths to the Senators’ ears.