The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Civil Rights Monitor - Volume 17, No. 1 - Winter 2007

The Immigration Reform Debate Continues

After the 2006 election shifted control of Congress to more progressive hands, civil and immigrant rights groups were more optimistic in early 2007 about the prospects for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. Because Congress still remained sharply divided, however, and with a presidential election just around the corner, efforts to enact even piecemeal improvements to the nation's immigration system were ultimately thwarted.

Early in 2007, the Congressional leadership, with backing from the White House, announced that a sweeping immigration overhaul would be among its highest legislative priorities in the 110th Congress. The key goals of comprehensive reform were to: 1) provide the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States with a way to legalize their status; 2) enact effective but humane approaches to border enforcement; 3) eliminate massive backlogs of applications for family-based visas; and 4) provide employers with more efficient ways to bring new workers into the country.

Black, Brown, and Asian: Leadership Conference Efforts To Build Bridges on Immigration

For many years, immigration restrictionists fostered and capitalized on tensions between racial and ethnic minorities to discourage a consensus on comprehensive reform.

Realizing this, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (LCCREF) convened leaders from the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities in February 2007. The meeting resulted in a set of principles, endorsed by community-based organizations and stakeholders, including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, the Asian American Justice Center, and the AFL-CIO, which declared that any successful immigration reform needed to address the economic concerns of low-income native workers as well as the legal status of immigrants.

The principles formed the basis of a set of legislative proposals that called for increased job training for lowincome communities, more public notifications of job openings, increased enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, and more resources to help native-born workers relocate for new job opportunities.

These principles were warmly received on Capitol Hill when LCCR President and CEO Wade Henderson testified at a May 2007 hearing on the impact of immigration on native workers. At the hearing, Henderson reiterated LCCR's support for balanced immigration reform and rebutted allegations that immigrants were responsible for "stealing" jobs from Americans.

Senate Efforts at Compromise

Several weeks later, a bipartisan group of Senators -- led by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D. Mass., Patrick Leahy, D. Vt., Jon Kyl, R. Ariz., and Arlen Specter, R. Penn., -- announced a consensus on a legislative package that met the goals of comprehensive immigration reform.

The bill provided undocumented immigrants with a path to legalization but included draconian additions, including steep fines for applicants who would be required to temporarily leave the United States and apply for legal status at a border or port of entry, in a so-called "touch-back" process.

The bill scrapped much of the existing family-based immigration system for a controversial "point system" that favored education and employment prospects over family ties. It also established an immigrant "guest worker" program based on short-term visas.

LCCR and all of its member organizations were concerned about many aspects of the bill, but some favored moving the bill through the Senate and improving it later in the legislative process. Other groups, including the AFL-CIO, insisted that the bill needed improvement before further consideration.

Despite bipartisan support, immigration opponents decried the legislation as "amnesty" and leveraged Senate rules that required 60 votes to move forward with the bill to block it from further consideration. A second attempt met the same fate.

A narrower piece of legislation introduced this fall, the "DREAM Act," would provide legal status and more affordable education opportunities to young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children. It, too, was blocked.

Legislative Outlook

It appears unlikely that the 110th Congress will return to the issue of immigration reform in any meaningful fashion in 2008 -- especially during a presidential election year.

In the absence of federal action, a number of state and city governments have enacted laws designed to "get tough" on unauthorized immigration. A federal court struck down one such law in Hazleton, Pa., but similar initiatives continue to crop up.

There was some positive news, however, this year. The cities of New Haven and San Francisco announced that they would provide identification for undocumented immigrants and many police departments continue to refrain from asking individuals about their immigration status so they will report more serious violations of the laws.

The Civil Rights Monitor is an annual publication that reports on civil rights issues pending before the three branches of government. The Monitor also provides a historical context within which to assess current civil rights issues. Previous issues of the Monitor are available online. Browse or search the archives

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