IMMIGRANT LABOR, IMMIGRANT RIGHTS
One of the alternative proposals is the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. First introduced in 2001, the bill would allow undocumented students graduating from a U.S. high school to apply for permanent residence if they complete two years of college or serve two years in the U.S. military. For seven years thousands of young “sin papeles,” or people without papers, marched, sat-in, wrote letters, and mastered every civil rights tactic to get their bill onto the Washington agenda.
Many of them have “come out,” declaring openly their lack of legal immigration status in media interviews, defying authorities to detain them. The DREAM Act campaigners did more than get a vote in Washington. They learned to stop deportations in an era in which more people have been deported than ever since the days of the Cold War.
In the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, however, “dreamers” sat in at President Obama’s Chicago reelection office and demonstrated nationwide, leading Obama to issue an executive order “deferring” the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible young people. Today, many immigrant rights activists view the DREAM Act as an important step towards a more basic reform of the country’s immigration laws, and also see the dreamers’ strategy as proof that absent Congressional action the administration has the ability, if not the political will, to end mass deportations.
“The governments of both Mexico and the United States are dependent on the cheap labor of Mexicans. They don’t say so openly, but they are,” says Rufino Domínguez, former bi-national coordinator of the FIOB and now the director of the Oaxacan Institute for Attention to Migrants. “What would improve our situation is legal status for the people already here, and greater availability of visas based on family reunification. Legalization and more visas would resolve a lot of problems-not all, but it would be a big step,” he says. “Walls won’t stop migration, but decent wages and investing money in creating jobs in our countries of origin would decrease the pressure forcing us to leave home. Penalizing us by making it illegal for us to work won’t stop migration, since it doesn’t deal with why people come.”
The FIOB proposal on immigration reform is similar to that advanced by the Dignity Campaign, a loose coalition of organizations around the country that has proposed an alternative to the comprehensive labor-supply-plus-enforcement bills. The Dignity Campaign brings together immigrant rights and fair trade organizations to encourage each to see the global connections between trade policy, displacement, and migration.
The group also brings together unions and immigrant rights organizations to spur the growth of resistance to immigration enforcement against workers, highlighting the need to oppose the criminalization of work.
The Dignity Campaign proposal draws on previous proposals, particularly one put forward by the American Friends Service Committee called “A New Path”-a set of moral principles for changing U.S. immigration policy. Several other efforts were also made earlier by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights to define an alternative program and bring together groups around the country to support it.
The critique shared by all these organizations is that the CIR framework ignores trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, which have undercut workers’ bargaining power and employment opportunities in Mexico and Central America. Without changing U.S. trade policy and ending structural adjustment programs and neoliberal economic reforms, millions of displaced people will continue to migrate, no matter how many walls are built on the border.
Changing corporate trade policy and stopping neoliberal reforms is as central to immigration reform as gaining legal status for undocumented immigrants. There is a fundamental contradiction in the bipartisan policies in Congress that promotes more free trade agreements, and then criminalizes the migration of the people they displace. Instead, Congress could end the use of the free trade system as a mechanism for producing displaced workers. That would mean delinking immigration status and employment. If employers are allowed to recruit contract labor abroad, and those workers can only stay if they are continuously employed (the two essential characteristics of guest worker programs), then they will never have enforceable rights.
The root problem with migration in the global economy is that it is forced migration. A coalition for reform should fight for the right of people to choose when and how to migrate. Freedom of movement is a human right. Even in a more just world, migration will continue, because families and communities are now connected over thousands of miles and many borders. Immigration policy should therefore make movement easier.
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