While the House and Senate contemplated and failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010, Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, a radical law designed to make civil immigration violations, which had heretofore been only federal infractions, crimes against state law.
Arizona claimed that the federal government was either unwilling or unable to enforce federal immigration laws, but SB 1070 was acutally enacted as a means to increase the incarceration of immigrants in order to support the private prisons which housed them. National Public Radio reported, “Arizona Sen. Russell Pearce sat in a hotel conference room with representatives from the Corrections Corporation of America and several dozen others. Together they drafted model legislation that was introduced into the Arizona Legislature two months later, almost word for word.” Other states – including Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Alabama – followed Arizona’s lead and enacted similar laws labeled by advocates as laws designed to result in “attrition through enforcement”and by Republication Presidential Candidate Governor Romney as designed to cause “self-deportation.”
While many states embarked on this immigrant-hostile path, Maryland instead passed the DREAM Act which guarantees in-state tuition to graduates of Maryland high schools who, inter alia, have parents who paid three years of Maryland taxes. Maryland will also be one of the few states to issue driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status in January 2014.
President Obama, re-elected by nearly three-quarters of the Latino and Asian American vote, ran on a platform to enact comprehensive immigration reform. The central plank of his plan would allow the estimated 11-14 million unauthorized immigrants already in the United States to embark on a path to citizenship.
Today’s movement for federal immigration reform is somewhat different from those in the past as the coalition in support of reform is extremely broad, diverse, and powerful, and has led to the passage of United States Senate Bill 744 on June 26, 2013. SB 744 has some provisions which would soften the harshness of the immigration laws enacted in 1997. Perhaps the four most significant changes would be the elimination of the bar to applying for asylum after one year of presence in the United States, the use of a more lenient standard to prove hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative to prevent removal from the U.S. or to allow admission to the U.S., the categorizing of a permanent resident spouse or parent as an immediate relative, and the reintroduction of discretion to immigration judges.
A radical aspect of the law is the agricultural worker provisions, which importantly are the product of an agreement between organized labor and industry. The proposed provisions provide expanded rights for immigrant agricultural workers, including the ability to “port” or switch to a similar job, a right already accorded to high skilled immigrant workers. This will allow agricultural workers to escape abusive and harsh working conditons and hopefully results in safer and better working coniditons for all agricultural workers.
At the eleventh hour, the Senate adopted the Corker/Hoeven Amendment which calls for a massive increase in military spending on the border through drones, a doubling of the already subtantial number of border patrol agents, and 700 miles of additional border fencing. This “border security surge,” which most experts agree serves no tangible purpose, is estimated to cost $48.3 billion and makes SB 774 look like a war authorization bill as funding for Iraq and Afghanistan has faded. Many oppose this massive spending increase on the border because they view it as wasteful in the face of decreased border crossings; Texas Congressmen Beto O’Rourke aptly described it as “a bonanza for defense contractors [which will] definitely cause more death and suffering.”
Mark J. Shmueli practices in all areas of immigration law and is based in Takoma Park, Maryland.