By Laura Carlsen
June 29, 2006
Laura Carlsen is the director of the IRC Americas Program.
In recent weeks, newspapers featured variations of a stern-visaged soldier standing guard on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Bush administration's decision to begin deployment of thousands of National Guard members on the border sparked protests in both countries.
Combined with the raids on undocumented workers in mid-June, it also belied the benevolence of the current immigration reform that some had heralded as progress.
As the so-called security measures move full steam ahead, House leaders recently announced that they will hold public hearings over the summer before discussing a joint House-Senate immigration bill. Comprehensive reform has fallen off the fast track, and with the November elections complicating the political stage will likely not be taken up until next year.
Given the current political climate, that might be just as well. There is no doubt that immigration reform is an urgent national priority. Twelve million people living and working without citizenship, legal security or labor rights not only hurts them but erodes the democratic base of society, divides communities and foments racism and discrimination. A labor market that encourages cheap immigrant labor while failing to offer legal status sends mixed messages to society about the role of its workers.
These profound contradictions must be resolved. However, the proposals on the board do little to really resolve them. The House law myopically interprets immigration as solely a problem of crime and punishment while the Senate version--closely following the proposals laid out by President Bush--attempts to reconcile labor needs with calls for "border security."
There is no logical or practical way to reconcile the portrayal of immigrants as security threats with their day-to-day role in the labor market and their communities. Imposing a security paradigm on the immigration debate has obscured the real issues and opened up dangerous tendencies within society.
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