So far, 2006 has been a rocky year for the over 12 million people who call the United States home, but are living here illegally.
With the debates heated and opinions given out like kittens, politicians on both sides of the immigration issue are trying to reach a compromise on a bipartisan immigration bill while striving to not alienate their constituencies, many of which could be recent immigrants or rabidly anti-immigration activists.
“Politicians are now seeing Latinos as voters,” said Fabiola Torres, an Ethnic Studies professor at GCC and CSUN. “These politicians have to appease their constituencies, which are becoming largely Latino in the U.S.”
Torres and other pro-immigration activists have all rallied behind the Latino community in the face of the proposed anti-immigration legislation.
The debate has created social and political divides; at the heart of the matter are people whose only real crime was being born on foreign soil.
As waves of protests make front-page news, the American public cannot help but face the reality of the immigration issue.
On May 1 pro-immigrant activists in the U.S. and Mexico will be hosting a nation-wide boycott, asking all of Hispanic ethnicity to boycott American goods and businesses in aims to put pressure on U.S. law makers.
Organizers of “The Great American Boycott” are urging immigrants in the U.S. to skip work and avoid purchasing any items in order to demonstrate the economic power immigrants contribute to the U.S.
South of the border, activists are urging Mexicans to boycott American owned businesses such as Wal-Mart, which is Mexico’s largest retailer.
Some Mexican Government officials are also lending support to the protest, “We want to show the power we have as Mexicans,” said Carlos Chavez y Pacho, vice president of the chamber of commerce in Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas.
The debate over if this political move will help or discredit the immigrant movement is causing a divide in the Hispanic community.
Some organizers of the mass-march protests are now having second thoughts on a nation-wide boycott.
Some strong risks may apply to those who take part in the boycott; individuals who miss work that day could possibly lose their jobs.
Other activists are saying the boycott could send the wrong message, that immigrants are anti-American.
Some backlash has already been seen on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight as Dobbs read a viewer’s letter that stated, “A day without Mexicans is a fabulous idea, I wonder what we can do get them to extend it to a year.”
L.A. Union leaders, community leaders and Cardinal Roger Mahony are asking immigrants to attend peaceful protests after work and school, according to National Pubic Radio’s Mandalit del Barco.
No mater the approach, immigration activists are still staying focused on their main objective, helping the over 12 million undocumented people in the U.S. obtain their legal status.
April 10 added to a second week of nationwide protests among U.S. cities. Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Dallas once again held pro-immigration demonstrations, drawing hundreds of thousands in support.
Counter demonstrations were also held; anti-immigration activists protested in front of the Mexican consulate in Phoenix, Ariz., where they burned the Mexican flag.
“These anti-immigration groups can take their message too far, becoming militant, alienating politicians or any form of support,” said Torres. “Who wants to be affiliated with these groups when they are seen as racist or perhaps even terrorists by the public?”
Some see the proposed anti-immigration legislation recently surfacing as a sign of prejudice.
“Many have the common perception that all illegal immigrants are Mexican,” said Torres. “As where many are saying immigrants are a threat to the U.S, all the terrorists in the 9/11 attack had visas and were in the country legally and now day-laborers are being labeled terrorists.”
Chris Kocharians, 18, a GCC biology major, felt that anti-immigration legislation would target people unfairly. “I know a lot of people who would be affected by this kind of legislation. It almost seems racist.”
Juan Guillen, 20, a sociology major, felt that law makers could protect the U.S and Mexican border and not have to punish undocumented immigrants, “I feel the idea behind the proposed law is wrong; it will affect 12 million people who are so-called living here illegally. The borders could be protected and not have to target these people.”
While others feel that stricter legislation is needed, Arsineh Avakian, 20, a political-science major said, “I am completely for the laws, plus stricter regulations and restrictions on illegal aliens.”
If a compromise is met that allows immigrants to attain legal status, some anti-immigration activist rather have the welcoming gates locked, Avakian adds, “I believe the laws should not be encouraging illegals [immigrants] by rewarding them with receiving amnesty.”
On April 5, the Senate leaders of both parties came to an agreement on a bill that will allow illegal immigrants who’ve been in the U.S. for five years to apply for citizenship, only to have the bill come to a stand-still on April 6.
The bill was drafted by Republican Senators Mel Martinez of Florida and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called it an “enormous improvement” over Wisconsin’s Republican Congressman James F. Sensenbrenner’s bill.
The Sensenbrenner bill would have called for all undocumented people in the country to be deported and not given the chance for citizenship. The bill met large-scale protests nationwide.
The debate over the Sensenbrenner bill had drawn a line between Conservative and Liberal Republicans, such as Specter and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who apposed the bill.
“I never thought the issue that would split the Republican vote would be immigration, rather than abortion,” said Torres.
If new immigration legislation is passed, that would include a guest worker program and amnesty, “it would recognize the extraordinary contributions and the incredible exploitation of immigrants over the decades,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Kennedy said the bill of that sort would teach a lesson, “You’re welcome here, if you work hard, you’re devoted to your family, you play the rules and pay your taxes.”
Under a recent tax law, undocumented people can still pay taxes. They may file for a federal tax ID number and pay federal taxes; many do by the tune of $16-billion in 2002 according to The Center for Immigration Studies.
Torres said this sends a mix message to the public, “that immigrants are not welcome but their hard earned money is.”
The earth could have stood still on March 25 as 500,000 bodies dotted downtown Los Angeles as part of the nation-wide protest against the anti-immigration bill, HR4437 (Sensenbrenner).
What many are calling an historic event; one of the nation’s largest immigration protests ever. The immigrant-led march through 26 blocks of downtown L.A. showcased to the world what the L.A. Weekly dubbed, “The Sleeping Giant.”
Half a million men, women, and children al
l marched peacefully arm in arm together from Adams Blvd. along Spring Street and Broadway to City Hall wearing white t-shirts, waving American flags and chanting, “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!).
The high point of the gathering came when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the mass crowd from a podium outside City Hall, “We came together to say that we are workers, not criminals, that we work hard, we pay our taxes, we live by the rules and want this great America to take us into account.”
Protesters cheered when Mexican radio host, Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, a former illegal immigrant himself announced from the podium that “the march was the start of a new era.”
Many credit Sotelo as being the sole reason the protest drew the numbers that it did, the week before he urged other fellow Mexican radio hostd to help promote the march and unite anyone who would lend a ear.
Other American cities also were host to protests, Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee and a march in Phoenix was the biggest demonstration in city history.
Following the mass protest March 25, students from across the city held high school walk-outs on March 28 bringing further attention to what the Hispanic community was calling “an injustice.”
The HR4437 bill was the brainchild of Sensenbrenner, the bill was passed by the House of Representatives in Dec of 2005 with a vote of 239 to 182. It was later dropped by the Senate in early April.
The bill was summarized as the border protection, anti-terrorism and illegal immigration control act of 2005.
The bill contained three main points to suppress the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. by severely punishing anyone without legal status, erecting a 700-mile fence on the southern border and prosecuting anyone caught helping and abetting an illegal immigrant.
Under the proposed legislation, any undocumented immigrant living in the U.S. would fall under “unlawful presence” and be considered a felon and subject to jail time, be barred from future legal status and re-entry into the country.
Immigrants, including asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic abuse and children apprehended along an international border would also fall victim to the proposed law.
The used of expedited removal would be permitted, where boarder agents may remove a person seeking potential asylum without providing a trial before an immigration judge or qualified adjudicator.
The Department of Homeland Security would be required to build a 700-mile stretch of fence among the Mexican border, at points with the highest number of immigrant deaths contributed to entering the country illegally; the arid deserts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
The third part of the law would target anyone or organization who assists an undocumented individual in residing or remaining in the U.S. knowingly or with reckless disregard to the individual’s legal status. This could include aid workers, such as church personnel who provide shelter or other basic needs to undocumented people.
Sensenbrenner defined the legislation, saying he is trying to stop people from exploiting illegal immigrants for cheap labor, drug trafficking and prostitution according to an article recently published by the Associated Press.
Many are saying that without the cheap labor immigrants provide, the U.S. economy will take a huge hit, “It has always been normal for capitalism to thrive on cheap labor,” said Torres.
If immigration is restricted, who will take the jobs traditionally filled by immigrants, dish washers, bus boys, car wash attendants, landscapers, and restaurant workers to name a few.
“Big business does not want to give up immigration; immigrants fill those jobs that Americans refuse to do because of the low wages,” adds Torres.
Would high school or college graduates be willing to wash dishes, bus tables or wash cars for $6.75 or less an hour?
If a compromise is not met on immigration reform, it is uncertain who will be the greater victim, immigrants or the U.S.
A nation founded on immigration, a once fundamental American value, immigrants are now once again being cast as the scapegoat, such as the Irish and Jewish were in the early 1900’s.
Now both Irish and Jewish communities are staples in American culture.
Perhaps the famous Ellis Island greeting, “Give me your tired, your poor-,” should be revised to something more modern, “sorry, we’re full, turn the boat around.”
“But perhaps the greatest victim could be Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he loses his maid,” said Torres.