Immigrant groups say new bill hurts African and Asian families

Tens of thousands of immigrant rights activists rallied on April 10 across the United States demanding that the federal government develop a comprehensive program to allow approximately 11 million undocumented people remain inside the country, with an option aimed at ­legalization.

Instead, the 844-page Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, introduced April 17, places strong emphasis on preventing people from crossing the southern border from Mexico.

Although the Obama administration has deported more people than any other administration, estimated to be some 1.5 million, the proposed legislation provides for even tougher border security and enforcement measures. It calls for the Department of Homeland Security to develop, finance and institute a revamped border security plan.

It also requires the building of a security fence in five years to achieve “100 percent border awareness” and at least 90 percent apprehension rates in so-called high-risk sectors of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

No one will be eligible for amnesty. In fact this bill, if passed, will strike down the de facto amnesty in existence under current U.S. law. Undocumented immigrants under the proposed law will be completely ineligible for any federal benefits, including health care.

Repeal of diversity programs

This proposed act of Congress also eliminates Family Reunification Visas and the Diversity Visa Program that have provided avenues for legal immigration for many years.

The elimination of family reunification visas for siblings and married adult children will have an especially negative impact on people from Asia and Africa. Tuyet Le, the executive director of the Asian American Institute, says: “I think we rely on our family network for social support.” (wbez.org, April 17) This is in light of the fact that nearly 50 percent of people waiting for these visas from Asian countries are seeking admission through the family reunification program.

Over the last few years, Africans from the continent have made up 30 to 50 percent of people entering the country through the Diversity Visa Program. Alie Kabba, executive director of the United African Organization, pointed out, “This program was one of the only few options that Africans have to come to the U.S. as immigrants. The elimination of the diversity program is reversing the clock in terms of African migration to the U.S. and it also undermines one of the seminal achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, which was the democratization of the U.S. immigration system to ensure that there was indeed a diverse stream of immigrants coming to the U.S.”

In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed by Congress at the height of the mass struggles of African-American people and their allies in the South and throughout the U.S. The act was very significant because it broke down the strict quota policies in effect since the 1920s that largely excluded Asians and Africans from entering the country and gave preference to Northern and Western Europeans.

The Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights also raised concerns about the proposed bill. Executive Director Jerry Clarito stressed that the immigration system “should not be just using immigrants as a tool for economic development.” He pointed out that the new legislation redirects the thrust of immigration law from a family-based orientation to the imperatives of U.S. industry. “The immigration system should be really fair and humane. It’s not about just skills,” Clarito said. “Otherwise, we are creating an elitist form of immigration.”

All unattributed quotes are from wbez.org, April 17.