Immigration Deal Fails to Win Support in Marin

By Don Speich, Marin Independent Journal
May 19, 2007

The sweeping immigration agreement between President Bush and a bipartisan group of key members of Congress was rejected out of hand Friday by many of those in Marin on either side of the hotly contested and complicated issue of immigration reform.

"It's going to replace a system of chaos with another system of chaos," said Tom Wilson, executive director of the Canal Alliance.

It does nothing, said Mark Hill, chairman of the Marin Republican Party, to stop "this never ending carousel (of illegal immigration) that is bankrupting our country."

The deal, announced Thursday in Washington, D.C., and already facing harsh criticism nationally from both the left and the right, includes a variety of new features - all of them quickly becoming lightning rods - that provide avenues for those in the country illegally to legalize their status as well shifting the focus of the country's immigration program. It will move the current system, which is primarily weighted toward family ties as the foundation for allowing temporary workers into the country, toward one with preferences for those with advanced degrees and sophisticated skills.

The agreement would allow illegal immigrants to obtain a "Z visa" and - after paying fees and a $5,000 fine - ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. However, heads of household would have to return to their home countries first.

Wilson said that in some cases having to return to their home country would be tantamount to sending them home to be killed. Many have fled their countries because of oppressive regimes and fears about their and their family's lives. It is likely, he said, they would not survive returning to their homes.

Douglas Mundo of the Canal Welcome Center cautiously endorsed the agreement but said he was very concerned about the $5,000 fine. It is not clear, he said, whether only the head of a household would have to pay the fine or whether, for example, along with a father, his wife and his children also would have to come up with the money.

Either way, he said, the sum would be prohibitive to some and that others probably would go without food and other essentials of subsistence to come up with the money.

Or, as put by Wilson, "People will do whatever they have to pay."

Mundo said a disturbing trend was quickly appearing in the Canal area between those who have, or can without much trouble come up, with the $5,000, and those who cannot.

Carol Hovis of the Marin Interfaith Council said $5,000 is far more than the annual income of persons in Guatemala and El Salvador, and therefore would be entirely unrealistic for persons who are in this country primarily to raise money for their families in Latin America.

Hovis said all attempts at immigration reform will at best be piecemeal "until we in United States really look at our global economic policies and how they are affecting economies around the world, particularly in third world countries, until we understand how our policies directly impact people."

Immigrants from Latin America come here to escape the economic hopelessness of their own countries and are met with resistance here. And the resistance, she said, is driven by "racist and classist tendencies, not wanting poor people of color to come here, out of fear."

Mundo, as well as others interviewed, also was critical of the shift from family to skills as the criteria for guest workers in the country.

He and Wilson wondered who it was who would determine which skills were considered valuable and which not, and on what basis such a determination would be made.

"I came here without having any skills," Mundo said. "I have been in the process of getting those skills because I had the opportunity to get educated."

On the other side of the spectrum, Rick Oltman, of Californians for Population Stabilization, said, "This is like the annual Kabuki dance in Congress that is done for two purposes: To convince those (in the country) who are half paying attention and are concerned about that they are doing something about immigration, but it is also done to attract more (illegal) immigrants into the country."

Every time there is a new move to reform immigration policy and the proposal contains provisions which can be construed as providing amnesty for illegal immigrants, "it creates a surge" of illegal entry into the country.

"This is not a deterrent message, it is a message telling them if they come here they can stay."

The agreement, he said, is dead on arrival. "No government agency in the history of the planet can hope to administer it.

"This is nonsense."

And all of it is done to appease American business that wants cheap labor, he said, and therefore is "a bipartisan bidding war between Democrats and Republicans for money from business" for political campaigns.

Hill and others interviewed subscribed to a theory that what is motivating Bush, at least in part, is a desire to have a legacy that is defined not solely on the unpopular war in Iraq. Along with Iraq, history would weigh his reaching across the aisle to such political opponents as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to carve out a new immigration policy, one that would be looked on favorably by historians.

"I think that is fair (the assessment of Bush's motive), but sadly he has breached many fronts of the conservative base," Hill said. "There are less taxes, he got that partly right, but I am not sure about the spending part."

And in the end, he suggested, it won't work because the new immigration agreement is deeply flawed and, therefore, unworkable.

Besides, he added, referring to immigration reform under former President Ronald Reagan under which amnesty was granted to immigrants in this country illegally, "From the Republican point of view, didn't we do this before? This is a replay of the same play."

Contact Don Speich via e-mail at dspeich@marinij.com

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