Immigration Reform: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Against the Current, No. 163, March/April 2013

Joaquin Bustelo

THE INTRODUCTION OF “immigration reform” legislation is a tribute first and foremost to the heroic activism of proud “Undocumented and Afraid” youth coming forward to demand their rights and refusing to live in the shadows. It also raises a host of new issues. Socialists call for open borders, amnesty for so-called “illegal” immigrants and citizenship for those who wish it, but we also need to develop a concrete attitude toward specific proposals. Do these reform proposals make the situation better and less repressive in people’s real lives, or worse? Do they open pathways for further reforms, or create barriers blocking new progress?

We need to listen carefully to what activist forces are saying. One commentary, “Immigration Reform Depends on Us” by Rigo Padilla, appears at the Solidarity webzine at

We present here another first response, written on January 29, 2013 by Georgia activist and Solidarity member Joaquin Bustelo. — The ATC Editors

A LOT OF Latinos and other supporters of immigrant rights are celebrating tonight the announcement of an outline for an immigration reform hatched by eight senators. And there is reason to celebrate.

The gang of eight came up with a compromise, supported by all four Republicans, including John McCain, their 2008 presidential candidate, and Marco Rubio, a tea-party darling who is much talked about as the GOP standard bearer in 2016.

So the Republican united front against any reform has collapsed, and they have accepted — in principle — that it be a single bill and that legalization will lead to permanent residence and then citizenship for those who want it. Thus far the good.

The bad is in the details. First, no move towards permanent residency can begin until some new commission of border state politicos proclaims that the border is secure. Unless the government changes its catastrophic “War on Drugs,” there will be incidents along the border related to drug trafficking that can be used as a pretext to freeze everything for decades.

Once the border is supposedly “secure” there would be a requirement that everyone who was “standing in line” to get their immigrant visa to become permanent residents — all of them, every last one — get their green cards first before the currently undocumented can get theirs.

One problem is … there is no line. Each year Congress decides on a quota of people to be admitted through a preference system. That system has two pools — visas for employment and visas for family members. These are further subdivided by category. Family has five categories and four levels of preference. Employment has eleven categories with five levels of preference. (There are special quotas for religious ministers, and another one for Iraqi or Afghan translators. In 2012, more than 4000 were admitted in that category).

In 2013 there will be up to 380,000 “quota” visas. So how many are on the waiting list worldwide? The number is 4,412,693, meaning it would take over 11 years before the first green card under this proposal were granted. But it gets worse.

No country is allowed to have more than 7% of the world quota. So in the case of Mexico, they will get up to 26,600 visas. And how big is the waiting list in Mexico? It’s 1,316,118. Divide by 26,600 immigrant visas a year and you get 49.47 years: as close to half a century as makes no difference, before the first green card would be offered under this proposal.

And it gets even worse: not just in each country, but each priority level also has a quota. In the lowest family preference category there are 746,137 applicants waiting in Mexico. Fourth preference category visas are limited to a world maximum of 65,000, and 7% of that is 4,550 visas/year. So how long would it take to drain that pool of applicants? 163.986 years, which means that counting from the beginning of this year, by December 26 of the year 2175 the government would start processing permanent residence applications for people receiving legal status under this proposal.

Now the senators all know this … or at least people on their staffs do, because they are often called upon to lean on la migra on behalf of some well-connected immigrant who is “out of status.” So this is all sort of a sick charade. Marco Rubio needed cover and they gave it to him, everything that he asked for. It’s political theater.

It’s great that the Republicans have been forced to abandon one position after another. First it was, no immigration reform until hell freezes over. Then it was, let them stay but they can’t be citizens and, oh yeah, let’s do it piecemeal so maybe we can pass a Dream Act and something supposedly for the agricultural workers and leave the rest twisting in the wind.

You can see now why the Republicans wanted several bills — to pit one segment of the community against another. And they’ve incorporated that strategy into this document with promises of special treatment for childhood arrivals and farm workers. The Republicans have agreed to having just one bill and a path to citizenship, at least in theory. But they’ve incorporated the divide-and-rule strategy into this document with promises of special treatment for childhood arrivals and farm workers.

But the reality of this proposal is that the path to the grave is much shorter than to citizenship for the rest of the immigrants, and although it claims to be “comprehensive,” lots of very necessary points have been left out of the proposal.

The Really Ugly

Those immigrant visa numbers were the bad; now it gets really ugly:

For example: Why are we still spending millions deporting people whom we would otherwise be legalizing in a few months? But the senators “forgot” to have a moratorium on deportation of people who don’t have convictions for serious crimes, not even parents of children.

Another necessary point is an end to polimigra — the use of local police as extensions of the immigration service — and a return to what has been the U.S. tradition, that local and state law enforcement play no role in enforcing federal law.

Which brings me to another missing point: amnesty.

No, I don’t mean for the undocumented, because they’ve done no wrong. Hominids have been meandering all over the globe since we climbed down from the trees in Africa, and doing what humans have always done is not a crime in my eyes.

The amnesty would be for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have been unjustly prosecuted for illegal entry (even though it’s only a misdemeanor) or illegal reentry after deportation, a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years.

In Texas and Arizona Obama continued and expanded a program Bush started called “Operation Streamline.” Federal prosecutors are required to charge every last border crosser caught in their sector — no discretion allowed.

Under Obama, prosecutions of people caught at the border have skyrocketed to become the most frequent cases filed in Federal Courts. Yet what’s going on is simply that people who got caught and deported are trying to return to their families and friends. An amnesty that frees them from prison or banishment and erases these convictions from their record is needed.

With local cops acting as extensions of la migra, the result has been a catastrophic dismemberment of hundreds of thousands of families. That — the reunification of families and healing of communities that have been devastated by this deportation madness — needs to be at the center of any reform.

These issues aren’t addressed by the eight Senators, or in Obama’s leaked back-up plan. So it’s not yet time to celebrate but to organize and prepare for the next battle, which is over the content of the reform.

One tool is the “ucanfixitnow”website and the 15-point “Basic Requirements for a Just Reform” ( We need to be clear on what we’re fighting for.

March/April 2013, ATC 163