The Strive Act – Hopeful Immigration Reform – May 2007

Last year, on May 1st, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their U.S. citizen allies rallied in cities’ around the nation.  They put a human face on plight of some 11 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in this country outside the benefits and the protection afforded by legal status.  This year’s May 1st rallies were a bit more subdued – but still hopeful that the 110th Congress will do what the 109th Congress lacked the political courage to do in an election year: pass comprehensive reform.

Representatives Gutierrez and Flake have introduced bipartisan legislation in the House, H.R. 1645, the Security through Regularized Immigration and Vibrant Economy Act of 2007 (STRIVE).  Some parts of STRIVE do raise some concerns.  (For example, Title II of the legislation could put at risk bona fide refugees who flee persecution in their countries by using false travel documents). Nevertheless the STRIVE legislation on the whole comports well with the principles needed for a just and humane immigration reform bill. As US Bishops have long advocated, the legislation does contain a viable program for legalizing the undocumented population and giving them an opportunity for permanent residency, a new worker program with appropriate worker protection and wages and reductions in family immigration backlogs.

The STRIVE ACT is encouraging.  It moves the immigration debate in the right direction The Administration’s most recent proposal, however, is deeply disconcerting and does not do justice to President Bush’s early championing of comprehensive immigration reform.

Unlike the STRIVE Act, which promotes family reunification and has a realistic plan for bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, the Administration’s initial proposal would make cuts to family-based immigration as well as impose fines and wait-times for legalization that are far beyond what most immigrants could bear.  This would effectively leave many immigrants needing to legalize their status in a permanent underclass and would encourage family breakdown in immigrant communities.

Under the proposed plan undocumented persons could apply for what would be a new “Z” visa. However, the “Z” visa could cost a family of five $64,000 to eventually gain legal status.  Such high costs would discourage immigrants from applying and would replace the now broken policy with one that is unworkable and impractical.

Also, eliminating or limiting four categories of family preference (adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, parents of U.S. citizens and some children of permanent residents) as proposed by the Administration would represent a major departure from U.S. immigration policy which has always favored the reunification of families. Again, this proposal if enacted would be self-defeating for it would do nothing to stem illegal entry but exasperate it as people desperate to be reunited with loved ones would still cross borders without proper papers.

The problem is not the immigrants who come in response to the laws of a market economy filling jobs that otherwise would go wanting.  The problem is our antiquated and inadequate immigration laws.  Both sides of the aisle in both Houses of Congress recognize– as does the White House – that our immigration system is broken.  A window of opportunity has opened for a practical and realistic fix.  HR 1645, the STRIVE ACT, offers the right structure and formula to effectively address our immigration crisis. Congress and the Administration need to work together before the window closes with the August recess.