With the arrests of hundreds of immigrant workers at meatpacking plants in six states this week – which United Food and Commercial Workers union spokeswoman Jill Cashen rightly pointed out was "not a systematic way to address the deep problems plaguing the immigration system" – the pressures on the new Congress to pass immediate immigration reform will be even greater. Many activists, labor and immigration rights groups, analysts and pundits believe that some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill will find bipartisan support.
But there is a much better alternative for a humane and rational immigration policy.
Last year, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee – the new Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims – introduced the Save America Comprehensive Immigration Act. She described her legislation to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!: "My bill attempted to craft this as a civil rights issue, and that is, to give a sense of fairness to individuals who had been in this country and had worked and paid taxes and wanted to come from under the shadows. And it provided the earned access to legalization with English conversance, the idea of working, investment in the community, family and community service and no felon record. We also provided for family unification. We provided for the DREAM Act, so the children could go to school. We eliminated or provided penalties for the utilization of fraudulent documents, for the abuse of women, for the abuse of workplace, which would take advantage of those who are undocumented. We insisted that employees provided a safe workplace and a workplace with dignity and equal rights. We also provided for the anti-smuggling provisions, that would stop the coyotes from bringing individuals across the border and causing danger to their lives." Jackson-Lee also introduced the Rapid Response Border Protection Act to add border patrol agents and the state-of-the-art equipment needed for enforcement through means much more reliable and less inflammatory than building a wall.
After millions of immigrants demonstrated across the nation in the spring, The Nation ran a lead editorial suggesting that comprehensive reform must address "…family reunification; a solution to the visa backlog, now at 6.2 million and counting; and the coveted ‘path to citizenship' that allows immigrant workers to build lives with a future." The Jackson-Lee legislation accomplishes that and it has the support of many leading labor, Latino, and African-American advocacy groups.
But neither Jackson-Lee's legislation – nor even the House version of the McCain-Kennedy bill – were allowed to be debated in the draconian Republican Congress. Certainly the new House will have a much greater respect for the diversity of ideas offered by our representatives. And with Subcommittee Chairs drawn from Congressional Progressive Caucus members such as Jackson-Lee, Jerry Nadler, Lynn Woolsey, Dennis Kucinich, Ed Markey, Jan Schakowsky, Raul Grijalva, Hilda Solis, Melvin Watt, Luis Gutierrez, Jim McGovern, Pete Stark, Jose Serrano, John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Jim McDermott and others – there will be many opportunities for thorough consideration of progressive, forward-thinking policies.