Ever since the House of Representatives in December and then the Senate in May approved different immigration bills, their sponsors have been working to reconcile the two approaches. The ruling class is trying to figure out how to change its immigration policy to guarantee the employers a growing pool of immigrant labor that can be superexploited, while tightening their borders.
The discussion among the wealthy on the matter reflects the impact of the huge working-class mobilizations for immigrant rights this spring. The spread and size of those actions caught the capitalists by surprise and changed politics in the United States.
Both the House and Senate immigration bills aim to tighten the border with Mexico, building miles of multilayered fencing and deploying thousands of National Guard troops and border police.
The Senate version would provide for a temporary worker program that ties the ability of these workers to stay in the United States to maintaining employment with their boss. It would also allow many undocumented immigrants living in the United States to eventually obtain permanent residency after meeting strict conditions such as paying fines, passing English-proficiency exams, and obtaining security clearances. Its main sponsors are senators John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Edward Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The House bill would make it a felony for anyone to be in the United States without proper documents or aid those who are, and would not allow legalization of the 12 million undocumented workers currently in the country. Its main sponsor is Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin.
No issue more deeply divides American conservatives today than immigration, said an editorial in the July 10 Wall Street Journal. Its the subject on which we get the most critical mail by far, no doubt reflecting this split on the right.
The opposite page of the same issue of the Journal carried an open letter signed by 33 prominent conservative politicians and pundits. These included former secretary of state George Shultz; former UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick; former New York congressman Jack Kemp; Tamar Jacoby and John McWhorter of the Manhattan Institute; Weekly Standard editor William Kristol; and New York Post columnist John Podhoretz.
In many respects, the way we position ourselves on immigration will determine whether we retain the mantle of majority leadership, read the statement.
The editorial and statement argued that conservatives should back a version of the Senate bill, in particular supporting provisions that would increase the number of those with residency papers, establish a guest worker program, and require immigrants to pass English and U.S. history proficiency tests.
The most frequent criticism we hear is that a newspaper called The Wall Street Journal simply wants cheap labor for business, said the editorial. This is an odd charge coming from conservatives who profess to believe in the free marketů. Our own view is that a philosophy of free markets, and free people includes flexible labor markets.
Giving those immigrating to the United States more chances to enter the country legally, the editorial of the big-business daily advised, would reduce illegal immigration far more effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could.
Both sides hold hearings
Backers of the House version held a hearing at a Border Patrol station in San Diego July 5. California congressman Edward Royce charged that the Senate bill would tie the hands of police agencies by requiring unprecedented and problematic consultation with Mexican authorities. Royce, a Republican, is chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation.
Senators Arlen Specter, a Republican, and Edward Kennedy hosted hearings in Philadelphia backing the Senate bill. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg said at that hearing that the citys economy would be a shell of itself without immigrants and that it would collapse if they are deported.
President Bush weighed in on the discussion in a July 5 visit to a Dunkin Donuts in Alexandria, Virginia. The shop is reportedly run by immigrants and its owners participate in a program that allows employers to determine if job applicants are in the country legally.
Im absolutely opposed to amnesty, Bush said. But Im also realistic to tell you that were not going to be able to deport people who have been here, working hard and raising their families. So I want to work with Congress to come up with a rational way forward.
Local attacks on immigrant rights
Meanwhile, capitalist politicians are taking initiative on the local level to set precedents on immigration reform. Thomas Macklin, the mayor of Avon Park, Florida, for example, is following on the footsteps of his counterpart in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, in sponsoring an ordinance that would make it illegal to rent residential space to undocumented immigrants and deny permits to businesses that knowingly hire them, reported the July 10 New York Times.
If we address the housing issuemake it as difficult as possible for illegals to find safe haven in Avon Parkthen they are going to have to find someplace else to go, Macklin said. The mayor said he got the idea after hearing on a radio show Hazleton mayor Louis Barletta promoting that citys Illegal Immigration Relief Act (see article in this issue).
Avon Parks ordinance would make English the citys official language, removing Spanish from all city documents, signs, and automated phone messages.
Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the press the proposed ordinance violates several laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Bauer said her group might sue if the city council passes the ordinance.
30,000 march in Chicago for legalization of immigrants
Pennsylvania city approves anti-immigrant measure
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