Perspectives on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

By Lupita Peimbert

(United States) – One thing is clear to me, the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Other Purposes Bill” currently in Congress, has interests and objectives that focus on the United States attracting and retaining the highly educated, highly talented, or highly entrepreneurial of the world. The adults undocumented immigrants are not the priority.

Although it gives solace and comfort to 11 million undocumented immigrants by apparently protecting them from deportation and a wide scope of potential abuses to their human rights, those who created this bill do not seem to give the adult undocumented immigrants a high value for their contribution to the US society. The bill does not necessarily open the door for their economic and educational advancement. In fact, it might prevent their success.

The “adult undocumented immigrants” are the majority of the 11 million. In this commentary, I am referring to them, to the men and women who crossed the border illegally, who came to the United States because of lack of work in their countries, who have worked or are working in agricultural and service industries. Every time I say undocumented immigrants in this opinion piece, I referred to the adults, and think of them with respect  –having witnessed their struggles, losses and achievements.

Lets say this new immigration bill fosters healthy competition and sparks people’s ambition to become better than they are, and to achieve. But the criteria to measure how valuable an immigrant can be to the United States, may prevent many of the 11 million undocumented from being valued as qualified competitors. Won’t say more. I am sure you get it. Think about it.

The new immigration bill sounds to me like someone out there saying:
“Okay 11 million undocumented immigrants, we are hearing you and responding to your claim: You will be legal once and for all. But rest assured, it is going to be harder for you to go up in the economic ladder. Rest. Watch television: soccer games and telenovelas. Spend your money. Keep working hard but stay where you are and do not dare to compete. Leave our money and our class alone!”.

The affairs regarding illegal immigration to the United States is different than what illegal immigration is in other countries. Most of the 11 million undocumented did not arrive to the US yesterday, they are men and their families who arrived in waves to this country since the late 80s, often as a result of international commerce policies that encourage or even force their departure from their home country. These adults have been living and working under the shadows, often underpaid, overworked, and labeled as second class citizens. US Corporations highly benefit from this workforce. The governments in Mexico and Latin American make money by exporting the poor; immigrants send millions of dollars back to their families and towns in their country of origin.
The majority of the 11 million undocumented in the United States are LATINOS. Undeniable, Latinos work very hard. Work is a deeply rooted cultural value.

The majority of the 11 million have paid their right to work and live in the United States, day by day, work-hour by work-hour. Comprehensive Immigration Reform is not a favor, nor a charity. No way. It is a long overdue part of a business transaction.

If this bill becomes law, it would change the current “family-based” immigration system. The new system, whose details are in a document containing 844 pages seems to focus on “merit,” among other points. It will all depend what criteria is used to measure “merit.”

At least, this bill will legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A change on their immigration status will give them peace of mind. But, it may end up shuttering their spirits. Who will succeed? Only those strong enough to navigate in a highly competitive society where higher education, money and being part of the middle/upper class are passports to advancement. The problem is that a vast majority of the “undocumented” population lack higher education, do not make a lot of money and have been consistently labeled as brown, minority, inner-city, immigrants (these labeling often stigmatize people, converting them into “second class citizens” in the public’s perception.

This bill will give something. A process for legalization.  It will mean a lot to many, but in reality it may help very little to many as well.

It is very important that undocumented immigrants realize that economic advancement, full participation in the United States society, and the ability to compete for better jobs and better quality of life, won’t come by default when ultimately becoming US citizen or legal resident -first becoming RPI, the initials for  Registered Provisional Immigrant Status named at the bill  in Congress. Plenty of personal and individual efforts will be required. Perhaps it is time that undocumented immigrants stop watching the often idiotic programming shown by the television and radio networks geared to them in Spanish specially but also in English. Perhaps it is time to send less money to their countries and instead, invest in themselves from English-language courses to whatever vocational, trade and professional classes or certificates that can help them be more qualified in the workforce.

The individual advancement of the adult undocumented immigrants and their families will have to come from their extreme efforts, not from immigration reform.

It is not the United States government’s job to provide advancement to adult undocumented immigrants, it is for each person to realize and act upon the fact that individual economic advancement is directly related to personal efforts. In this century “personal effort” has become a rather complex. It is not just about one’s ability to move forward and achieve often against the odds, but a system that can put obstacles and hurdles all along the way, often derived from laws that were meant to protect and provide.

Politicians, community leaders, and immigration experts are saying that everybody must support the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Other Purposes Bill” currently in Congress, even as they work on it along the way. Similarly, politicians, community leaders and immigration experts are asking to be cautious about its details. Some clauses may open the door to regulations detriment to the current undocumented community.

As a bilingual journalist witnessing and reporting news about immigrant communities in California since 1990 and being both Mexican national and United States citizen, I say yes to this bill, just because it will legalize the currently undocumented. But I have not higher expectations from it; actually, I have no expectations other than

  1. Some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants will become Registered Provisional Immigrant or RPI (according to the bill as it is on April 2013) once they pay a fee and comply with certain requirements.
  2. At some point the RPI will become legal residents.
  3. Years later they will qualify to become US Citizens.
  4. Apparently, being RPI means that current undocumented immigrants will not longer be called “illegals” or  “criminals.”
  5. Apparently, being RPI means that they wont be deported because of lack of papers.
  6. Apparently, being RPI means that they can work legally in the United States.

This transition won’t happen from one day to the other, for one thing. For another, events outside immigration could affect the implementation phase of immigration reform. Last point, being legal won’t ensure that one will get a better job.

Immigration reform under the current bill will make the undocumented legal, but it won’t ensure equal access to opportunities for their economic and other advancement. In fact, it might prevent their success. Collateral damage or  intentional act. Who knows?.

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