Proposed U.S. immigration policy providing valuable lessons, education professor says

Friday, March 24, 2006

A proposal by the U.S. House of Representatives to crack down on illegal immigration is too harsh, but students and other groups involved in protest movements across the country are learning some valuable lessons, according to Rudy Rodriguez, director of the bilingual education program at the University of North Texas and a professor in the UNT Department of Teacher Education and Administration.

House Bill 4437 calls for toughened enforcement of illegal immigration, including the creation of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, tougher penalties for employers of illegal aliens and a mandate that federal government officials cooperate with local officials in picking up illegal aliens, allowing local law enforcement to detain illegal aliens rather than calling federal officials who tell them just to release them.

The bill differs sharply from a bill passed this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would create a guest-worker program and put millions of illegal immigrants on track toward permanent residency and U.S. citizenship.

The House bill sparked protests this week by immigrants and activists, including some high school students who walked out of class.

Rodriguez says one of the lessons the students learned at the protests is " in this country, whether you are a legal or illegal resident, you can disagree with government and publicly protest if necessary without fear of reprisal or persecution."

"The other important lesson is that demonstrations and massive protest can potentially affect policy. The more lenient position being taken by many members of the Senate with regard to immigration — including support for a guest worker program — is, I believe, influenced by the nationwide marches and political demonstrations," he says.

Rodriguez says that while the United States needs a clear, comprehensive immigration policy, the House’s bill is not the answer.

"This measure is too harsh and punitive and it is being proposed at time when this nation is trying to clean up its world image. If this bill succeeds in passing, it would fuel the ugly American view," he says.

In addition, he says, "closing the borders and criminalizing undocumented workers and people who hire them are unrealistic solutions given the number of undocumented immigrants in the country and enormous cost this nation would incur to enforce the policy."

"The House plan would not be practical given the huge deficits in the national budget. We need to find a just solution that is humane and serves the economic interests of the country and immigrant groups," Rodriguez says.

He also says the U.S. cannot have an effective policy without provisions that call for "active and genuine negotiations" between the United States and Mexico in particular.

"Mexican President Vicente Fox recently issued an invitation expressing his willingness to enter into negotiations with the U.S. on issues associated with illegal crossings, drug trafficking and border security. This is an important gesture on the part of the Mexican president that is worthy of serious consideration by the policy makers in Washington," he says.

John Booth, UNT professor of political science, calls immigration reform "incredibly difficult" for Congress "because of all the cross-cutting pressures it arouses, dividing normal allies from one another."

"The Republicans are split among nativist and pro-national security elements who want to exclude people, pro-business factions who like immigrants – legal or not - because the immigrants lower labor costs, and those who seek new Hispanic constituents," he says. "Democrats split between pro-labor factions who say open immigration lowers working class wages, and those who believe certain reforms will discriminate Hispanics as a traditional Democratic constituency."

At the same time, he says, Hispanics in the U.S. disagree about whether stricter immigration enforcement "might encourage persecution of Hispanics, and whether immigrants' low-wage competition for U.S. Hispanic workers might be keeping them poor."

"Try to build a working coalition for any particular reform out of that," Booth says.

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