This article was originally published by The Mennonite

The Immigration Bill: Creating a new indentured underclass?

This weekend I had a conversation that changed my perspective on the current immigration bill being debated by the U.S. Senate. I talked with Reverend Phil Wheaton, a long time activist for Latin American issues.

According to Phil, the Immigration bill currently on the table was written by the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a coalition of business and industry groups. Their first interest is to create a permanent cheap labor force. To this end, immigrants working under the new “Y” temporary work visas will be in the United States only as long as their employers continue to sponsor them. This makes it difficult if not impossible for employees to challenge the employer in any way without risking instance loss of legal status and possible deportation. Phil says, the bill would “give the employer the right to dictate all labor conditions, prevent union organizing [and] limit freedom of movement.

Rosa Rosales is the National President of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest and largest Hispanic organization in the United States. In a May 21 press release she said:

If enacted, the temporary worker provision alone would create a new underclass of easily exploited workers who would be forbidden from realizing the American Dream. This bill will dehumanize workers, short-change employers and lead to wide-spread undocumented immigration as many workers inevitably overstay their visas rather than return home.”

But groups like LULAC aren’t the only one raising concerns. Peter Schey, the President Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law wrote a major report criticizing the “Y” temporary visa and the “Z” visa program. At the end of the piece he says:

We believe that the current White House/Senate proposal will provide corporate America with everything that it wants in immigration reform: Massive new numbers of foreign temporary exploitable workers and guaranteed access to a large future population of undocumented workers. The proposal also gives away much to anti-immigrant advocates and institutions by offering a wide range of extremely harsh new measures that will unquestionably drive immigrant communities deeper underground rather than result in their apprehension and deportation.

These extremely harsh measures increase the penalties for those who aren’t able to legalize their status and an escalation of raids targeting Latinos in workplaces, homes and on the streets. What happens to a family when the mother is disappeared by Homeland security agents and deported with no notice to her children or husband? The bill would create 20 massive new deportation centers to hold 20,000 detainees each to greatly expand this crackdown. Is this really where we should be spending our money? Jails that will be filled with people from just one ethnicity whose only crime is wanting economic opportunity. Further criminalizing undocumented immigrants is not the solution. It does not promote family values, but rather systematically breaks up families.

I recognize that immigration is an incredibly complex issue and that the quotes above reflect only one angle of it. But it’s a point of view that isn’t widely discussed in mainstream media sources who are much more likely to simply. And if what they say is even close to true, the risk of passing the bill to high. And there’s no reason not to encourage that. One of its stipulations is that once it is passed it cannot be changed for 14 years. So rather than hurry, we should take our time and make it sure we get it right.

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