Congress Signals Change for Immigration Policies


Since the Obama administration came into power, the absence of movement on immigration issues has made activists on both sides of the debate anxious. Most reasoned that there was so much on the new President's agenda, critical issues would have to wait for their turn. But when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) went forward with the raids that were born under the Bush administration (much to the apparent surprise of the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security), tension mounted. Over 8,000 people in Arizona gathered last weekend to protest the way agreement 287(g) has played out in the hands of local law "enforcers" like Arizona's infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is well known for stunts like marching immigrants in chains through town. (The agreement hands civil immigration enforcing powers to local criminal law forces.) Racewire reports in Immigration Advocates Want Action From Obama.: But the protesters didn’t pin all the blame on Arpaio. They issued a call to President Obama and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, echoed by a powerful op-ed published in the Times, to step up and take responsibility for ending the inhumane policies and terror practices that have become all too commonplace in this country. Is this call being answered? Public News Service reported that Arizona Congressmen Rep. Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor joined with Illinois Representative Luis Guiterrez at an immigration reform rally on Sunday night at an immigrant rights rally. "The leadership has made public commitments; President Obama has made public commitments. With the enforcement part and other things, it’s become an issue in which more and more people want Congress to react. And I think we need to, and as a consequence of that, I think we have a much better chance this year than we've had the last four or five." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also has signaled a strong stance against the ICE raids and subsequent "tearing families apart." On March 8, Pelosi's noted herposition is that "Taking parents from their children" is "un-American." In an exciting move, on March 10th, the US Department of Justice announced its "first civil-rights probe related to immigration enforcement," referring to an investigation into Sheriff Arpaio and Maricopa County's policing. In response, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox admits, "I think they're going to find racial profiling, which is a civil-rights abuse." News items like these, considered collectively, may lead one to feel confident that positive change is coming in the area of immigration reform. More importantly, that reason can begin to reclaim its place in the conversation, not to mention a sense of decency and humanity. These can be important imperatives in a time of economic downfall. But it is precisely at these times that minority and immigrant communities become vulnerable to scapegoating and potentially worse. On AlterNet, Kevin Tillman addresses a popular example of the tendency to target the immigrant community in Stimulus Spin: Unauthorized Immigrants Will Get Construction Jobs. Tillman reminds us that even if undocumented workers benefit along with the rest of the nation, this is on cause to reject the stimulus package nor to visit hostility upon the immigrant community. Here's the thing: I don't care, and neither should you. Because the whole argument obscures the larger issue. …[T]here is no doubt that if we create a bunch of new jobs -- especially in construction -- unauthorized workers will get some of them. After all, they make up about 4-5 percent of the American workforce. And that's fine, because stimulus spending is not just about creating jobs. At the same time, the administration's moves toward approaching immigration from a different angle are muddied by other interconnected realities. On March 10th, Air America posted a clip of Rachel Maddow's interview with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, with the theme "Mexico bad and getting worse" to which the solution offered was the Mérida Initiative, or what many opponents call "Plan México." Mérida is dubbed Plan México after Plan Colombia, in which the US (under President Bill Clinton) enacted legislation targeting the drug commerce in Colombia, specifically the coca crops. (The legislation was funded and further expanded under President Bush.) Plan Colombia has been soundly criticized because of paramilitary and police abuses by the Colombian armed forces, as well as the abject failure to reduce cocaine production, which instead has greatly increased. The Mérida Inititiative is a plan that could only be enacted by a government that has learned nothing from Plan Colombia's miserable failure. The Mérida Initiative is a program crafted by the minds of the Bush administration, and like so much legislation of that era attempts to introduce oppressive and authoritarian measures in response to predictable phenomena, and all without examining the true causes. Suggesting that Plan México is "change" from the policies of the Past is ridiculous. As Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy (CIP) wrote: "…[T]he militarized approach to fighting organized crime, couched in terms of the counterterrorism model of the Bush administration, presents serious threats to civil liberties and human rights. In Mexico, this has already been clear particularly among four vulnerable groups: members of political opposition, women, indigenous peoples, and migrants. … Because Mexico cannot receive any cash under Plan Mexico, the entire appropriations package translates into juicy contracts for arms manufacturers, mercenary firms, and U.S. defense and intelligence agencies. Perhaps Plan México will bring about more border cities being taken over by the military. Such as on March 4th, when reported that the Mexican government sent over 2,000 troops into the border city of Ciudad Juarez to "try and regain control" as "more than 2,000 people have been murdered over the past year." This violence was, of course, instigated by Mexican President Felipe Calderón's unprecedented attack on the Cartels. So these conflicts intensify and the proposed answer—in the form of Mérida—is more funding, more weapons, more surveillance. There are no voices telling us, yet, how using greater weaponry and surveillance and increased military powers are going to quell the national appetite for drugs that makes this conflict possible. Nor how even a government or two can hope to match that source of funding. Nor is anyone yet advising us on why we should be content in 2009 to watch complex issues of society be reduced to issues of force and more and more of our society handed over to military control. Especially when we surely have learned that this is not beneficial to the People. One hopes that the current confluence of crises will inspire bold thought and a momentum capable of breaking away from the fearful and violent mindset that seems to have dogged so much national policy for almost the last decade. We need to make a different world for ourselves. And for others. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration. Visit for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

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