Undocumented Immigrants: Give Them a Parade, Not SB 1070

On Monday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by the federal trial court in Arizona halting the implementation of the primary features of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law. The court held that Arizona's law interferes with the federal enforcement efforts by directing state and local officers on how to enforce federal immigration laws. That invades the purview of federal immigration officials. The court also was influenced by the fact that foreign governments and the United Nations have complained about the Arizona law, creating a foreign policy problem. Arizona's added attempt to criminalize undocumented status at the state level also was criticized by the court. Congress has a comprehensive scheme for punishing undocumented immigrants, and therefore, Congress has preempted the field of criminalizing aliens.

At some point, states and local governments will get the message that they must leave the regulation of immigrants to the federal government. The anti-immigrant folks should be satisfied with that. After all, the Obama administration continues its record-setting pace for immigration detentions and deportations.

However, no matter how much enforcement goes on, the anti-immigrant lobby will continue its haranguing of Congress, the border patrol, and the president, for not getting control of the border. This is in spite of the fact that year after year, the nation continues to spend billions on enforcement, forcing employers to fire undocumented workers, more border fencing, and militarization of the border that results in the deaths of migrants simply trying to feed their families. I've argued before, how crazy this is, in light of globalization and the likes of NAFTA that control the livelihood of workers on all sides of the border.

The furor over undocumented immigration is palpable. The anti-immigrant folks argue that things are out of control. We are being overrun. They have broken the law. They take jobs away from native workers. They use our resources. They don't share our values. They don't speak English. Simply put, this is a crisis!

My solution is simple. Calm down. Welcome undocumented workers. We have recruited and relied upon them for generations. They are here controlled by forces of globalization and trade polices. They have contributed to the economic greatness of our country. Welcome their families. Their children have become part of the social fabric of the nation. Like newcomers of the past, they are here to seek a better life through hard work and dedication to their families. To welcome them is to do the right thing. In fact, let's give them a parade. (I confess that the parade idea comes from former executive editor and op-ed columnist of the N.Y. Times, A. M. Rosenthal, who, in 1993, urged us to give a parade for Chinese who paid smugglers to bring them to the United States illegally, and welcome them as heroes after fleeing China for a better life aboard the Golden Venture into New York harbor.)

What to do about millions of undocumented immigrants is not a new question for U.S. policymakers. When the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was passed and championed by President Reagan, Congress chose a narrow legalization (or amnesty) as the answer, coupled with employer sanctions. At the time, members of Congress perceived only a handful of alternatives: first, to legalize many of the immigrants, second, to find and deport them, or third, to do nothing. The third option was not an option given mounting pressure to do something, and the second option (which is touted by many today) was considered unworkable, given the expense and effort that would be necessary to round up and deport millions of individuals, while possibly violating the civil rights of many during the process. Today, the fourth choice -- state and local law enforcement of federal immigration laws -- is being struck down by federal courts.

Once upon a time, there was a different piece of legislation known as the "Arizona Bill." Republican members of the Arizona congressional delegation came up with their own plan. H.R. 2899 was introduced by Congressman Jeff Flake in the House and Senator John McCain (S. 1461) in the Senate in July 2003. The legislation would have created a new nonimmigrant worker visa category, H-4A. Employers would have to provide the same benefits, wages, and working conditions provided to other employees similarly employed; the visa would be portable - employers could not prevent nonimmigrants from accepting work for a different employer. The employer would have to verify that the worker did not or would not displace a U.S. worker; the employer must comply with federal, state, and local labor laws. The visa would be valid for an initial period of three years and could be extended once for another three years. H-4A visas would be available to undocumented workers. A filing fee plus a $1,500 penalty would be required. Adjustment to lawful permanent resident status would be available to the H-4A nonimmigrant either by petition of employer or through self-petition, if the alien has maintained status for three years. Where are Flake and McCain these days? Still in Congress, but apparently restrained from making progressive proposals by the politics of the day.

As a nation, the United States ought to do the right thing when it comes to undocumented immigrants. We can solve the so-called undocumented immigration problem overnight. Grant them legalization -- they deserve it -- then follow that up with a parade.