As a Latino that often writes about policy decisions that lead to inhumanity at the US-Mexico border, it’s hard to ignore the myriad problems all over the so-called “system”. I say so-called because it’s more like poorly organized chaos than it is any type of system. And to imply that this is solely because of one political party or that it isn’t intentional would be disingenuous at best and a flat-out lie at worst. Cruelty is non-partisan. It’s used as a deterrent that doesn’t work.
Yet the ruthlessness has only gotten worse over the decades as voters are incrementally led down a path of accepting more and more human rights abuses inches at a time. When human rights and racial justice advocacy journalists talk about the dangers of incrementalism, this is precisely where the concerns lie. It happened with the prison system, social safety nets, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and yes, against non-white immigrants.
Despite bigots and otherwise ignorant voters referring to all migrants at the Southern border as “Mexicans,” the truth is, they represent the most diverse group on the planet. Many hail from countries as far away as Africa and Asia and as close as Cuba, Haiti, and Central or South America. In other words, mostly non-white. The racism behind policy decisions becomes more obvious when you look at how Ukrainian and Russian asylum seekers are expedited to the front of the line ahead of people who are still waiting after years thanks to former president Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.
Similarly, we never hear about Canada’s border with the US or Europeans who overstay their visas. When it comes to migrants from the Southern Hemisphere, it’s all about locking them out, building walls, and violating their human rights. The United States has intently destroyed families, stolen, tortured, and incarcerated children, violated the most basic rights, and created lasting generational trauma for immigrants for more than a century.
Despite that, asylum-seekers, undocumented workers, and political asylees still endure gross maltreatment to provide for their families. They do so with honor and pride for their adopted country. Willingly paying taxes for social programs they may never benefit from and sales and property taxes – either through homeownership or through rental properties allowing the homeowner to affordably pay the tax – contributing in more ways than they’re given credit for.
The System That Isn’t a System
The US immigration system is a mess but it’s not broken. The horror is consciously and willingly implemented. It’s bipartisan. Both parties that claim to represent the voters have intentionally passed laws, allowed the militarization of the border, and openly use Latinophobic rhetoric that targets the broad representation at the Southern Border. But even more than that is the rest of the process which includes many more immigrants from various parts of the world.
It’s not just Latino families being torn apart.
An issue of contention yet rarely discussed in the discourse is the green card backlog. In 2022, 8.3 million people were on the family-sponsored permanent residence process. The waitlist of people who are relatives of US citizens and legal residents has increased by 1 million people since 2019. These immigrants are spouses and children of legal permanent residents or adult children of citizens. Additionally siblings of adult citizens and any spouses and minor children of those relatives round out the immigrants represented on the list.
In 2021, H.R. 3648 was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA-19) in the House. The Equal Access to Green cards for Legal Employment Act of 2022 (EAGLE Act) was meant to address the green card backlog increasing the per-country cap on family-based immigrant visas from 7% of the total number of such visas available that year to 15%. It also would have eliminated the per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas. The bill did not survive.
The Dignity Act offers many of the same increases in visa availability as the Eagle Act and it also cuts the visa backlog to a maximum of 10 years. That means anyone that has been waiting for a legal visa (either family-based or employment-based) for 10 years or more will be provided that visa. However, a similar bill, H.R. 1535, has been introduced to “preserve expiring employment-based visas, and make them available for issuance during fiscal year 2024.”
The overlap in the dozens of bills speaks not only to the dysfunction in the system but also to the piecemeal approach in Congress that has been the standard since 1990. It conveys a message that shows the unwillingness to implement tangible immigration reform and instead provides incremental band-aid fixes that only serve to further complicate the process for migrants and immigration officials alike.
At issue with the Dignity Act is the additional tax on immigrants. Essentially, not only do they already have to pay taxes to be here and tens of thousands of dollars to maintain or achieve citizenship, some congresspeople want to add surcharges just for being in the US. While the taxes and fees may not seem like much on paper, when added to the already burdensome costs of being an immigrant from the Global South it most certainly is.
Many advocates argue that the bill is another way to extract wealth from migrants and hand it to American citizens in the form of “training Americans” that may or may not have lost their jobs to immigrants. The act (H.R.3599) was introduced by Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL-27) who claims that for every immigrant accepted into the US, two US citizens will be retrained and put back into the workforce – assuming they’ll accept the offer of retraining.
The biggest problem with the bill isn’t just its size which is reportedly 500 pages long. It’s that the text has not been received by the Library of Congress. If you look on the publicly accessible Congress.gov and try to find it you will find a statement declaring that H.R. 3599 has not been received and that it typically only takes a day or two for bills to be received once introduced on the House floor. The bill was introduced on May 23, 2023.
Whether it gets anywhere is anyone’s guess but those in the immigrant community don’t have much hope for this bill. Currently, the Dignity Act has eleven cosponsors (5 Republicans and 6 Democrats) with seven of those original sponsors of the bill. Since its introduction in May, only four additional congresspersons have shown support for H.R. 3599. The bill has also been referred to 12 committees yet there are no reports shown from any of them.
Even if the bill does make it through the House and the Senate and becomes law, there are stipulations in it that seem to make the process of achieving citizenship as burdensome and tricky as they are now. But without broader support from either party for this supposed bipartisan effort and with the numerous immigration bills currently being proposed in Congress, the Dignity Act seems to have already failed without any serious discussion about it.
Asylum-seekers are unlikely to receive any relief under the Dignity Act because it hinges on the key element that seems unachievable: the border must be 100% secure before immigrants are granted any benefits in the act. Who gets to decide what defines “secure” is unknown. When the rhetoric about “open borders” is taken into consideration – when we know they’re anything but – it appears hardly a politician in Congress will take the risk of declaring the US-Mexico secure.
What the act is supposed to do on the positive side is trumped by what it intends to do in forcing immigrants to pay for yet even more services that they will never benefit from. In the end, it solves none of the problems immigrants from Asia to Latin America currently face on a day-to-day level. Immigrants tied to their place of employment or risk losing their visas if they try to work somewhere else will still be subjected to the same mistreatment they’re facing now.
Even reuniting families seems unlikely considering stipulations in the bill that would limit its success. When looking at previous policy decisions and the bipartisanship that has led to the inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers at the border, it feels like the limits placed on the bill are intentional. In other words, it’s giving off a vibe of helping certain people get reelected by their constituents in Florida (and elsewhere) and not much else.
When it comes to immigration, it’s just as important to pay attention to what is being said as to who is saying it. Without the complete text of the H.R. 3599 being shared for public consumption, it makes advocates wonder not just what’s in it, but what it will look like after being picked apart and added to by myriad anti-immigrant Latinophobes on Capitol Hill – something voters cannot overlook. That’s precisely how we got to where we are today facing a system that intentionally mistreats immigrants of color.
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