Immigration Advocates Wary of Senate Bill

Hailed as a historic, landmark agreement, the immigration reform bill that cleared the Senate this week is making some immigration advocates wary of its terms.

Alvaro Huerta, spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, calls it a "flawed approach."

The proposed agreement, finalized after months of bipartisan negotiations, would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain "Z" visas. The head of an immigrant household would pay a fee of $5,000 and be granted eight years to return to their home countries or "touch back," to gain a guaranteed re-entry in the United States.

Even with this guarantee, some worry that the real life logistics of "touching back" may prove to too difficult.

Glen Wasserstein, a partner of the American Immigration Lawyer's Association, is one of those concerned, citing the complexity in processing the millions of immigrants that would return to their countries of origin. He believes the consulate offices are simply not equipped to handle the volume of returnees, creating backlog that could deter undocumented immigrants from coming out of the shadows.

"The fear of being stuck abroad would keep many aliens from engaging in this program," Wasserstein said.

Huerta agrees, worrying that touch backs will not stop immigrants from residing illegally in the United States.

"We're still going to have a group of underground folks who are going to be scared, not trusting or taking it on face value that they will be allowed back in," Huerta said.

Advocates are concerned not only that some immigrants would remain undocumented, but that the measure would actually create a new set of illegals within the country.

The proposal outlines a guest worker program that allows 400,000 migrant workers to enter the country each year, but forces them to leave after two years. Jaime Contreras of the National Capital Coalition of Immigrant Rights said this simply won't happen.

"The guest worker program will create another group of undocumented immigrants — when their visas expires, they're not going to go back," said Contreras.

The two-year limit may also cause problems for employers.

The temporary visas are not limited to seasonal jobs and are designed to make temporary workers available for year-round positions. According to Director of Immigration Policy Center Ben Johnson, this will cause disruption in the work force and put employers in a tough position.

"Asking employers to fire their employees every two years and to find and train a new set of employees is a recipe for trouble," Johnson said.

He also views the two-year limit as a disheartening failure to see the "humanity" of immigrants and what they can contribute to our cultural fabric.

Johnson said: "One of the things we do best is finding immigrants who really want to set down roots here. They fall in love with the country and help reinvent us. That is the American experience and we are going to deny ourselves that opportunity."

Other advocates agree, citing what they deem as hints of xenophobia in the way the bill was drafted and contend that the bill is "anti-family."

They argue the bill transforms the immigration system to one that is focused on education and skill level, rather than family. Immigration advocates and lawyers worry that this shift will tear families apart.

Glenn Wasserstein believes the shift away from family-centered policy will have an "extraordinarily damaging effect to the social structure of immigrant communities."

The new plan outlines that green cards should be awarded on the basis of point system, where family ties is only one factor. Points will also be awarded based on education, skill levels and English proficiency.

According to Huerta, the point system will inevitably favor upper-class immigrants, when advocates argue that poorer and unskilled workers are just as valuable.

Though immigrant advocates are happy immigration reform is on the table and "out of the shadows," activists like Huerta believe the terms of the agreement need to be re-examined. Huerta held a march on Thursday to send a message that their work is not done.

"We will remain vigilant and vocal about the need for just and humane immigration reform," he said.