The Senate recently passed a 1,200-plus page immigration reform overhaul bill, S. 744, with bipartisan support, and the dust is just beginning to settle on the massive set of amendments agreed upon in the days prior to the final vote. As the focus turns to the House of Representatives, immigrant rights advocates are starting to uncover the significance of tragic changes those amendments wrought.
For example, take the "Corker-Hoeven" amendment, which now represents the bi-partisan consensus on reforming our already broken immigration system, an immigration system that has measurable results: deporting 1.7 million people, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of others and leaving more than 11 million children and families in daily fear of being raided, deported and separated. With its unnecessary increases in border security spending and its legal traps that are guaranteed to exclude millions of those 11 million immigrants from a path to citizenship, the punitive approach to immigration reform at the heart of the Corker-Hoeven amendment marks a line that large majorities of Latinos cannot cross.
When we began this latest journey towards comprehensive immigration reform following the major display of Latino power in the 2012 elections, the promise of legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants ran highest among our demands – and highest by massive margins. The dream of citizenship for the 11 million drove us to mobilize our community and to deliver our votes.
Since then, many of us have had to stand by and watch as right-wing policies and priorities have replaced and watered down the promise of citizenship and legalization with the promise of even more punishment for current and especially future immigrants. We have also watched as Democrats, led by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have agreed to more punitive policies on top of more punitive policies.
While our resolve for seeing humane immigration reform enacted is a strong as ever, support for the legislation that was supposed to create a clear pathway to citizenship, legalization for all 11 million and reasonable border enforcement has waned as the process has made a sharp rightward turn. A major blow came in the form of a Congressional Budget Office report confirming that the promise of a path to legalization for the 11 million was a lie: three and a half million of the 11 million will be left out.
Some legal experts consider the CBO estimate "conservative" and say that millions of immigrants are, in the words of Peter Schey, one of the country's top immigration experts, "almost certain to eventually…[face] detention and deportation (if detected)." In an immigrant world defined by the Corker-Hoeven amendment, the dream of citizenship for the 11 million is dead. And the nightmare of even more punitive measures for current and future immigrants looms larger than anything in our lifetimes, as Republicans and Democrats appear ready to spend billions more on 20,000 more border agents, 700 miles of fencing, increased surveillance and other wasteful and expensive measures that do nothing but squander billions of taxpayer dollars.
A major poll Presente.org conducted with Latino Decisions confirms a whopping 81 percent of Latino voters reject the notion of the "border-security-first" approach that now defines comprehensive immigration reform. Latinos also stated their clear preference for a fair five-year path to citizenship, not the extended path of 15 or more years.
After consulting with our community, our allies and with Latino voters, Presente.org and I decided that the time has come to draw the line against Republican extremism disguised as "bi-partisan immigration reform," which now incorporates the Corker-Hoeven amendment, and to push for real solutions that don’t tie a promise of citizenship to increased punishment. We will continue fighting extremism in the House and pushing for the kind of legislation Latinos actually voted for.