Supporters of the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” claim the bill offers a pathway to citizenship and benefits. This is a complete lie. The purpose of this bill is to further militarize the border, increase deportations, and essentially force immigrant workers to be the captives of their employers.
It’s no surprise the biggest supporters of this bill are those who stand to get the biggest payouts. Employers from Microsoft and Google to McDonalds and Walmart are supporting this bill because they say they can’t find enough people to work. This is a move to get more temporary workers to use as a disposable underclass, and as a way of keeping wages as low as possible for everyone.
Linked to the bill’s passing is a requirement that could increases border security by $46 billion. As there have been massive cuts to important social programs, like health care and food stamps, billions of tax dollars are being handed out to security companies and private-prison corporations to target immigrants. Immigration enforcement has more funding than every federal law enforcement agency combined. The additional funding will include 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, 700 more miles of fencing, and billions more for drones, high-tech surveillance, and more privately-run, for-profit, immigration prisons. None of this will stop desperate families coming here for their survival, and it’s not intended to – but it will make crossing more deadly.
The so-called “pathway to citizenship” will take a minimum of 13 years to complete and is on track to have the first legalizations completed by the year 2028. During the first phase of the application process, an immigrant will only be granted provisional status. To even apply you must have arrived before December 31st, 2011 and be able to prove that you have never left. So anyone who visited family back home in the last two years is disqualified before they even apply. Once this is proven, you have to pay thousands of dollars in fees, penalties, and all back-taxes that the government decides you owe. This is a way to price people out of being able to qualify, to punish the poor for being poor.
And even for those who are able to complete this process, what they get is not citizenship but a 10-year probation period, which can be taken away at any time. And while on provisional status, even though taxes must be paid, immigrants won’t have access to most public programs that those taxes would pay for. And if at any time the conditions of probationary status are not met, immigrants could be deported – and even more easily since now they would be completely out in the open.
If any immigrant becomes unemployed for more than 60 days, or if their income falls below 125 percent of the federal poverty level (about $24,000 for a family of four) they are automatically disqualified. Someone working full-time earning minimum wage with two children would be kicked out. Many day laborers and seasonal workers won’t even get a chance to make the cut. Immigrants who speak up about working conditions and or low pay could not only lose their job but then would violate their probationary status. Meeting these conditions will be impossible for millions of immigrants, and their citizenship would out of their hands and controlled by their bosses.
Even after waiting over a decade on provisional status, those who somehow make it this far will then only be able to apply for a green card, not citizenship. After more fines, fees, penalties and taxes, and meeting all the work requirements, many won’t even be able to apply for a green card because of all the restrictions still being added. Currently undocumented immigrants would also be required to learn English, the only section of immigrants forced to do this. They also must wait until the existing legal immigration backlogs are cleared. In Mexico City some applicants have been waiting for family reunification visas for over 20 years. For those coming from the Philippines the line is even longer.
None of this will even matter if law enforcement doesn’t arrest 90 percent of those crossing without documents and of those who overstay their visas because then no one will get legalized. In the end, the Congressional Budget Office has predicted that only a little more than half of those who apply will actually get citizenship. The border is only one of the many barriers being proposed that are contained in this bill. Disguised as reform, this bill is being used as a way to benefit employers and to exploit an immigrant workforce with little to no rights. This new bill is not a path to citizenship – it’s just a path to greater exploitation.