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The Senate's Priorities: No Mexicans

by Leslie Radford Saturday, Apr. 08, 2006 at 11:32 PM

The U.S. Senate today exposed its real immigration agenda, and it has little to do with securing borders, drug runners, or terrorists.

The Senate set its priorities today: sixty Senators would prefer to keep undocumented workers and their “un-American culture” in the illicit, low-paid, and dangerous underground workforce and out of sight in marginal communities. For that, they unhesitatingly gave up the other espoused goals of “immigration reform”: limiting illegal border transgressions, and controlling drugs, weapons, and terrorists. They kept the United States of America firmly European über alles.

The “compromise” Hagel-Martinez amendment (S3347) was defeated this morning, which would have provided for high-tech border security and increased enforcement against guides for border crossers; immigration-enforcement training and funds for local law enforcement; and tighter employer enforcement. The amendment called for the deportation of three million people immediately and indefinitely, the deportation of millions more “temporarily,” and citizenship requirements for the remainder only after six more years of labor for U.S. employers.

Now if the Hagel-Martinez proposal wasn’t cruel enough--if the use of local police to force millions of people to give up whatever they have built in the United States and fine the rest 00 for the “privilege” of going to the back of the immigration line, what the Senators knew and didn’t tell us, is that it would have gotten far worse before the U.S. had an immigration reform law.

Yesterday, the Senate shut down the Senate Judiciary Committee’s proposal, which looked a lot like the more humane McCain-Kennedy proposal. The Committee’s proposal blasted through weeks of Committee stalemate after nationwide protests, culminating in a million-person march in Los Angeles, against the House immigration reform bill, the punitive Sensenbrenner bill (HR4437). But the Senate Committee knew what it was doing: whatever bill the Senate passed would have severe enforcement attached to it when it was reconciled with the Sensenbrenner bill. But even knowing that, every Republican member of the Judiciary Committee voted against their Committee’s proposal on the floor of the Senate.

Likewise, if the Hagel-Martinez substitute amendment had passed this morning, it would have had to be reconciled with the Sensenbrenner bill. And any reconciliation would have meant further concessions to Sensenbrenner’s provisions for making felons of those here without papers, for felonizing their families, friends, and advisors, for a 700-mile life-threatening and ecologically-devastating three-layer border wall, for more Border Patrol officers and more dogs.

But the anti-immigrant lobby successfully labeled the immigration process proposed in Hagel-Martinez as “amnesty,” although it is identical to current immigration procedures except for the additional fine. At the word “amnesty,” Republican Senators jumped back like they’d stuck their collective fingers in a light socket. Six Democrats jumped, too: Max Baucus (MT), Robert Byrd (WV), Kent Conrad (ND), Byron Dorgan (ND), Bill Nelson (FL), and Ben Nelson (NE).

In other words, any bill that came out of the Senate would have ultimately had Sensenbrenner esque border enforcement tacked on to it before it became law. That law, because of the Senate bill, might have also had allowed perhaps four and a half million Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Columbians, and Hondurans (along with a handful of Brits, Irish, Germans) to become citizens, and about a million workers and families members to enter annually for ten years, to work here with legal protection for 6-year stints. That’s what the Senate couldn’t have—people from south of the border who had legal status and legal protection. Instead, sixty Senators voted to keep undocumented people from other cultures underground and illegitimate, rather than incorporate them and their cultures into the light of day and legitimacy.

The “no” vote means the Senate may move to even more repressive proposals, perhaps without legalization and looking a lot more like the Sensenbrenner bill, when it comes back in session in two weeks. It’s equally likely that today’s vote has ended any change to current immigration practices coming out of this Congressional session. So the Senate chose to risk no immigration reform, good or bad, before it would welcome Southern cultures. The Senate chose their priorities: no welcome for the tired and poor from south of the border, no legitimatization for Mexicans, Central Americans, and other foreigner workers and their families. And nothing else—drug traffickers, terrorists, coyotes, or even “controlling the flow of illegal immigrants”—really mattered after all.

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