The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recently sent an immigration reform bill to the full Senate for further debate and future action. In an open letter to the Committee, the Black Immigration Network (BIN), “…..to correct some glaring flaws in the bill” recommended ten amendments “…for a fair, just and inclusive immigration bill.”
BIN is a national network comprised of organizations led by Black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as African Americans. The immigration reform debate substantially excludes most Black immigrants. Therefore, BIN and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), as strong voices for fair and equitable inclusion of Black immigrants in reform legislation, deserve the support of fair minded people throughout the nation starting with Black immigrants, documented, undocumented and African Americans.
BIN’s recommendations are:
(1) The categories of family members eligible for visas should be expanded, not contracted. The bill makes a major shift from family-based immigration to a “merit based” system. In a country that prides itself on espousing “family values,” it is reprehensible that families are not valued in this bill. The proposed shift treats human beings as economic units whose primary value is as workers, not humans. In addition, to exclude siblings and adult children from seeking family visas means that millions of family members will be permanently separated from one another.
(2) De-link legislation programs from border security. Tying the legalization process to so-called border security benchmarks that are totally unrelated to immigration status is ill-conceived. The path to citizenship should not be hampered with unwarranted delays in implementation.
(3) Maintain the Diversity Visa program. For many people in African and Caribbean countries, the Diversity Visa Lottery is the only chance of obtaining entry into the United States. The program is for countries that have minimal immigration to the U.S. and ensures that many who would otherwise not qualify are able to migrate. About 30% to 50% of the 50,000 visas each year go to people in African nations. However, potential immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean and other underrepresented countries should not be excluded from consideration for migration to the U. S.
(4) Extend the path to citizenship to other immigrants on temporary status. More than 300,000 people from Haiti, Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Syria have a legal status called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to natural disasters or political conflicts in their home countries. For many of them, the status has been renewed every 18 months for many years, even decades. But only a fraction of them will qualify for the proposed legalization program. Many people under TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) have established roots in the United States, having raised their families here. It is time to grant these groups permanent status and a path to citizenship.
(5) Shorten the length of time to reach citizenship and extend the eligibility date. A 13-year process is unduly long and burdens families with uncertainty and anxiety. We believe it will discourage many people from applying for the program. We also believe a 5-year process is a fair period of time. December 31, 2011 for eligibility should be extended to the date of enactment of the legislation.
(6) Stop inhumane enforcement programs and activities. The militarization of our southern border has already cost billions of dollars yet the bill proposes another $5.5 billion. We oppose increased military presence on the U.S.-Mexico border and other ports of entry. What has been spent to date has meant thousands of immigrants dying in the desert and daily violations of human rights in border communities. We call for an end to programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) that allow local law enforcement to act as immigration police and discourage our communities from cooperating with local law enforcement when crimes are committed. We also demand that the bill’s racial profiling prohibition be strengthened by adding religion and national origin as protected categories and eliminating border and national security loopholes. Unless this is done, immigrants will continue to be criminalized, especially immigrants of color and the false assumption will remain that they are a threat.
(7) People with so-called “criminal” records should not be automatically excluded from the program. We know this is a controversial point of view, but believe that both incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people are human beings that deserve second chances. Furthermore, many of the crimes contained in the category of “aggravated felonies” spelled out in the legislation bear no resemblance to what the average person would consider a serious crime. And the provision that anyone who commits three misdemeanors is ineligible is patently unfair.
(8) Dispense with prohibitive costs for filing fees penalties and back taxes. Millions of low-cost immigrants will find it very difficult to finance their path to citizenship, especially those where several members of the family qualify. This is an undue burden for people, many of whom have paid taxes for years and whose only “crime” is to cross a border without papers or overstay a visa time period.
(9) Eliminate the biometric identification card and the Electronic Verification Program (E-verify). These programs belong in a national security state in which everyone is under surveillance and personal liberties and privacy are severely compromised. We should not go down the path of a “Big Brother is Watching” society.
(10) Allow all immigrants access to healthcare and public benefits. Regardless of citizenship or immigration status, people deserve healthcare and public benefits for their personal well-being and for the well-being of all of our communities.
We ask that our recommendations be seriously considered. The signatories to this letter are members of BIN and allies with whom we work closely. BIN will continue to mobilize our communities to support the progressive changes in the Senate bill and to defend the human rights of immigrants, undocumented and documented.”
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org