Protestors march near the White House during a push for immigrant reform on May Day, in 2010.
The "Gang of Eight" hammering out a bipartisan immigration reform bill will release their proposal any day now. The legislation will offer a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and protections for the labor rights of immigrants—but is also likely to step up enforcement and border security measures and worker verification systems. The Nation invited four immigration activists and policy experts—Kica Matos of the Center for Community Change, Sarahí Uribe of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, Ai-jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Janice Fine of Rutgers University—to outline what the bill absolutely must include, and what it can't, to be a fair and just solution.
A Clear and Direct Path to Citizenship
Kica Matos is the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at Center for Community Change.
If we want to resolve the status of undocumented Americans and fix our patchwork system of failed and misguided policies, we need to make it possible for all 11 million immigrants to have a clear and direct path to citizenship. While there are a myriad of issues that comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform legislation must address, citizenship must be the centerpiece. Because Congress is fond of alphabet soup when it comes to naming legislation, we urge them to think about the A-E-I-O-U of immigration reform.
Attainability and Affordability:
The 1986 reform bill excluded the 600,000 immigrants who had entered during the previous four years. This failure was the beginning of the situation we find ourselves in today.
For the next wave of reform, immigrants will likely have to prove they were in the United States as of a certain date. The date imposed should be a recent one so that it covers the vast majority of undocumented immigrants who are settled in our communities.
According to the National Council of La Raza, 43 percent of all immigrants who attended naturalization workshops delayed applying because of cost. The new law should not impose excessive fines and additional fees that will make it impossible for eligible immigrants to earn legal status.
Expediency and Eligibility:
We should avoid obstacle courses and shifting goal posts. The legalization process should happen entirely within the United States. It should also not be contingent on arbitrary metrics such as increased border security or additional interior enforcement.
A broad spectrum of immigrants with varying family, work and immigration histories must be eligible, including day laborers and stay-at-home parents. The new law should not only include those who are fluent, but must include English-language learners. The proficiency standard should be realistic and we must ensure that immigrants have the resources available to learn the language. And family unity waivers must also include same-sex relationships.