This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
Will there be immigration policy reform in 2014?
This question, in one form or another, comes up every time we speak in public these days, most poignantly from anxious families who live in constant fear of being torn apart by detention and deportation. The answer, sadly, is probably not—at least not the kind of reform that would result in solid, forward-looking public policy.
If we really want to create good public policy on immigration, we need to look beyond all the current proposals in Washington and dig deeper into the structural problems with our outdated, isolationist and fundamentally inhumane policy regime around immigrants and immigration. In the short term, we simply must put a stop to the rampant detentions and deportations that are causing so much pain in immigrant communities.
An Elusive Hope
Immigrant families thought they saw a glimmer of hope in 2013. That’s when the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), a so-called “comprehensive” immigration bill, which would have provided relief to at least some undocumented immigrants.
But even that bill had substantial costs. It involved further militarization of the US-Mexico border, an even more aggressive interior enforcement regime, a new attempt at restricting access to employment by unauthorized immigrants and the biggest give-away to private prisons and border enforcement enterprises in history.
Eventual access to citizenship for undocumented immigrants might seem like an upside to the Senate bill. However, the phrase “path to citizenship” can be misleading, since it implies that immigrants will soon be on their way to becoming citizens. In reality, the steps are long and costly and would exclude large numbers of people. It would take immigrants at least ten years—involving a host of roadblocks and expensive filing fees—to get to the stage where they could even apply for Legal Permanent Residency status. Then, only after three years in LPR status would they have the option of applying for US citizenship.
So the Senate bill could hardly be considered an immigrants’ bill of rights. Nonetheless, even the major concessions it contained failed to move the House of Representatives beyond the partisan jockeying that passes for policymaking in Washington. The Republican leadership in that chamber refused to take up the Senate bill, or even to put forward an alternative piece of legislation.