There are undocumented immigrants in Chicago who crossed the border to get here; came on expired visas and were brought by their parents as minors. They are high school students, university graduates, dishwashers and mothers. Many of these immigrants are my neighbors.
And they’ve all been waiting for the immigration legislation that President Barack Obama promised to pass while he was president. Now it’s finally here, in the form of an 844-page-long omnibus bill released on April 17.
Border security is also an essential part of the new bill--the proverbial wall that must be gotten over before the long-awaited possibility of legalization can begin for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants that qualify within the bill’s strict requirements.
To get to the first level of legal status, known as registered provisional legal status (RPI), undocumented immigrants would have to pass the application process, pay a penalty of $500 and any back taxes.
But one hurdle comes in even before this. According to the bill, immigrants granted RPI can’t have their status officially adjusted until four conditions have been met. These include the introduction of the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy, a new plan that mandates more security around the border fence, a widespread e-verify system and the electronic exit system; and the Southern Border Fencing Strategy, which puts forward a new plan for where additional fencing will be built on the border.
Both are part of a widespread increase in enforcement that the legislation mandates.
The conditions for these increases to be met before anyone can start on the path to legalization are:
i) the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy has been submitted to Congress and is substantially deployed and substantially operational;
ii) the Southern Border Fencing Strategy has been submitted to Congress, implemented, and is substantially completed;
iii) the Secretary [of Homeland Security] has implemented a mandatory employment verification system to be used by all employers to prevent un-authorized workers from obtaining employment in the United States; and
iv) the Secretary [of Homeland Security] is using an electronic exit system at air and sea ports of entry that operates by collecting machine-readable visa or passport information from air and vessel carriers.
Because the legislation is still in draft form, it’s unclear exactly what will be in the final bill if and when it passes.
But looking more closely at the new strategy laid out for the border shows some of the problems with tying legalization to enforcement, immigrant rights advocates say.
The Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy would aim to “maintain an effectiveness rate of 90 percent or higher in all high-risk border sectors.” Stretching across more than 2,000 miles, the "high-risk border sector" in the Southwest includes the cities of Tucson, Ariz., San Diego and El Paso, Texas. According to Homeland Security’s September 2012 annual report on enforcement actions from 2011, 327,577 immigrants stopped at the Southwest border in fiscal year 2011.
Claudia Valenzuela, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center, based in Chicago, said some are concerned that the people charged with deciding whether the strategy is working may have biases.
“Governors like Jan Brewer [of Arizona] might not have the most open, neutral position on this,” Valenzuela said. Brewer has continued to push for more border patrol along the Arizona border, despite the southwest U.S. border with Mexico having the heaviest concentration of border patrol in the country.
And even if the border is deemed fully “secured,” she continued, it could only further prolong an already long process for those who have been waiting for years. “Already the legalization process is going to take 10 years for people,” Valenzuela said. “That in itself is sort of troublesome.”
In addition, she said, the security build-up along the border mandated by the draft legislation is “a misdirection of resources.” “We know that the number of entries have dropped,” she said. In May 2012, the Pew Research Hispanic Center found that net migration from Mexico had dropped almost to zero.
The Security Strategy will include more border patrol, aerial surveillance systems (also known as drones), and a partnership with the Department of Defense to “increase situational awareness.”
The price tag: $3 billion over the next five years.
Filed under: Immigration
Tags: 11 million, awaited, Barack Obama, bill, border, Chicago, Chicago Muckrakers, Chicago Reporter, Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy, dishwasher, expired visa, immigration, legalization, legislation, Mexico, registered provisional legal status, RPI, Schumer, Southern Border Fencing Strategy, taxes, undocumented, wall, Yana Kunichoff