A month ago I was very optimistic about the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform. Republican and Democratic leaders in the US Senate had reached an agreement that would have allowed millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the US to pay fines and gain legal status to stay in the US. It would have also increased the number of immigrants that could enter the country legally to work. President Bush supported the bill. It was an imperfect bill. It had many provisions that could be improved. But it was most likely the only chance we would have in years to give millions the chance to stay legally in the Unites States and get some deserved peace of mind.
Opinion: Democrats, a coalition of labor unions, and the Left betray the immigrants they claim to represent
Then to my naïve surprise I saw my hope of reform quickly vanish. Suddenly the hopes and dreams of millions of hard working immigrants instantly disappeared. The sad thing was that those hopes were dashed by the people you would have least expected it from: Democrats, several national Latino organizations, a coalition of Labor Unions and many in the political left.
What happened? The bill was killed weeks ago, lacking the necessary votes on a procedural move to end debate on the bill and then vote on it. The US Senate is now trying to revive the bill. It might be too little too late. What happened was that anti-immigrant forces and right wing Republicans organized like never before, while wimpy democrats, the political left and pro-immigrant forces couldn’t organize effectively and failed to respond with a decisive united voice.
Don’t confuse my comments with praise for Republicans. Although I believe President Bush, and the current leadership of the Republican Party is pro-immigrant, the party appears to have been hijacked by a racist, xenophobic minority led right wing radio talk show hosts. The folks that always oppose and never propose. They claim to be for the rule of law, national security and patriotism while in reality they are motivated by fear of the Latinoization of America. While you don’t get more American than the hard working immigrants that risk their lives for the chance of realizing the American Dream, xenophobic right wingers fear that brown skinned people will “take over America”.
Even conservative Republican Latina writer Linda Chavez recently accused many of the leaders of the anti-immigrant forces as being motivated by racism and fear of brown people. The right quickly united to attack Chavez’s comments. They were happy with her when she opposed affirmative action and bilingual education. But suddenly when she confronted the right wings xenophobic true colors, they turned on her like a wild pack on a pray. It’s tough being Latino in America now days, even if you have the benefit of US Citizenship and Republican friends.
But my biggest disappointment is with the left, most labor unions and several national Latino organizations. They opposed the Senate bill and will continue to do so because from their comfortable offices and with the benefit of their US Passports they fail to understand the needs and wants of the people they claim to represent. At least they mean well, but they simply don’t get it.
Undocumented immigrants are rarely polled, rarely interviewed, don’t appear on anti-immigrant CNN or Fox News “news shows” or are ever heard in congress. They clean our toilets, repair our roofs, take care of our children, prepare our food or program the software we use. They keep the price of our groceries low and the price of our homes high. They live with the daily fear that the cop in the stop light behind them might be the one that deports them back to the hunger, poverty, drug war violence, and the corruption they escaped from in Mexico. They work, pay taxes, behave well and add to the success of America. They are the only source of financial support for millions of relatives back in Mexico. They want to be legalized now.
Yes I oppose guest workers programs that would take away the possibility of an immigrant becoming a US Citizen some day. I oppose proposals that might divide families. I oppose an immigration system that limits entrepreneurship and job creation by immigrants and forces them to be only employees. I oppose proposals by Senator Coleman that would turn local law enforcement officers into federal immigration agents. I feel some of the fines and fees proposed for people to gain legal status are excessive.
But for some reason many in the left seem to be living under the unrealistic fantasy that if the Senate bill is defeated that magically congress will come up with a “good bill”. This from the congress that was elected to end the war and failed. This from Democrats that claim that the only way to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill is to get the support of at least 40 Republicans. The same Democrats claim that if we give them a Democratic President then they will deliver. But legal immigration was reduced under the last Democratic President. Folks this is the best we were going to get. The alternative is increased enforcement only. Chaos. Fear. Broken borders. Dead immigrants in southern desserts.
Contrast the position of the majority of labor unions on immigration, and their past anti-immigrant history with SEIU’s. This union represents thousands of Latino Janitors and service employees and is an example of an organization that listens to their members. One of the fastest growing unions in the United States, and one of the unions that delivers the most to its members, SEIU risked conflict within the labor movement, listened to their members, plugged their nose and supported the Senate bill. They understand the plight of the undocumented. They are the future.
We still have time. We can listen to the undocumented millions. They don’t need a perfect bill. They need peace of mind. Their families need their financial support. The US economy needs the increase in wages it will see when millions of immigrants go from undocumented to having the legal permission to work. The economy needs the relief the ailing airline industry would get, when millions of immigrants get the right to legally visit their relatives back home. It needs the millions of immigrants that would flood the real estate market and buy cars after immigration reform passed. Workers that will work in jobs nobody else wants. They will pay the fees. They will make the sacrifices. They cannot wait. Let’s unite and support the Senate pro-immigrant bill.
Alberto Monserrate is co-founder, President and CEO of Latino Communications Network, a print and broadcasting Minnesota Latino Media Company that publishes the bilingual Latino newspaper La Prensa de Minnesota, and operates 24 hour Spanish Radio Station La Invasora AM 1400 KMNV