Immigration Bill: How to Make the Bad, Good

This post first appeared in The Wise Latina Club and Latina Magazine.

The 844 page long "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" unveiled by the Senate so-called Gang of Eight is at best "C" level work.

Click here to read the bill in its entirety.

Reaching consensus on sweeping legislation means that no one got everything she wanted.

Key elements include:

  • A pathway for citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who haven't committed a felony, after benchmarks are met including civics classes, English proficiency, and fines totalling2,000. But to apply:
  • Border security targets must be met. To this end,5 billion over 10 years is being allocated to deploy more agents and increase surveillance. Also, verifying employees' work status will be mandatory.
  • More temporary visas for skilled workers. Green card holders have a quicker way to bring their spouses and children to the U.S. No mention of same-sex couples.
  • To reach this compromise, every stake holder including Republicans, conservative media, Latino community advocates, DREAMers, business, labor unions, and farm workers had to give on a lot.

Still, the process between introducing a bill and its passage is more fraught with opportunities to fail than a contestant angling to become the next American Idol.

This is why the immigrant community must step up even more and prove that through hard work and sacrifice, they earned the right to not just be here lawfully, but citizenship itself. This shouldn't be that hard. A new poll released this week trumpeted that if given the opportunity, 87% of undocumented immigrants surveyed say they would apply to become a citizen. This makes sense given their deep family ties with this poll showing that 85% have a U.S. citizen family member.

Unfortunately, another survey tells a different story. Nearly two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become citizens have yet to apply, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. This doesn't square with the rhetoric and the fight to include a "pathway to citizenship."

And a fight it was. The Hispanic advocacy community didn't budge on this, despite conservative Republicans screaming amnesty. Who blinked? Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is staking his political career on this bill's passage. Although the "kingmaker", he is also the most exposed, running the real risk of not succeeding in delivering his party's crucial votes.

Adios 2016 (or 2020 or 2024 or 2028).

It's not just the polling that doesn't square with the pro-immigration reform messaging. When I attended the March on Washington last week reporting for Latina Magazine, I saw immigrants with flags from Mexico, El Salvador, and Venezuela. To be clear, it wasn't as many foreign flags as I saw at the 2006 immigration reform rallies which I covered as a local reporter. But it was one too many: no other flag should be present at any pro-immigration reform event except our Stars and Stripes.

You can't have it both ways and why would you want to? I think of my Papi who came to the U.S. more than 45 years ago and says: Colombia me vió nacer pero no me verá morir. Colombia no me dió nada.

And he's right. His homeland didn't offer an abundance of opportunities, not even a few, which is why my parents left. Where they found a future for themselves and their kids is in the U.S. This is the case with virtually every immigrant who comes here to stay.

To bridge this immigration theory and practice gap, the pressure is on the advocacy community to preach civics up and down the line. It must be made clear to our immigrants that this was a hard fought fight which they themselves know too well, putting their lives at risk to cross the Rio Grande or the desert. These future Americans must take advantage of citizenship workshops, apply for citizenship, and then register and actually vote. One more thing: become as fluent in English as possible not just because proficiency is a requirement, but because English is the language of power.

If this bill passes--and it has political momentum--it will transform our nation's immigration laws, bringing it into the 21st century. The millions banished to the shadows will walk tall and proud, for all to see. Let's do more: let's integrate these immigrants fully into our society as fully participating citizens.

Question: What are the hurdles that keep eligible immigrants from applying for citizenship? How can these be overcome?