Immigration Reform Movement Reaches Critical Juncture

Immigration Reform Movement Reaches Critical Juncture

May1st2014FlyerBy Stan Santos

The movement for a permanent solution to the crisis confronting more than 11 million undocumented persons living in the United States has reached a critical point in its historic struggle. The choices are difficult and the options few as immigrants, advocates and organizers decide where to invest precious time and resources.

Should they choose the path of “comprehensive immigration reform” in the form of patchwork legislation or organizing strategies for protecting the civil and human rights of undocumented men, women and children? Unfortunately, an increasing number of immigration activists are beginning to see the two courses as mutually exclusive.

Just a few months ago, it seemed that the movement for comprehensive immigration reform was on the verge of a huge victory. The Democrats were exerting pressure on Republicans to better their position or risk irreparable damage to their chances of gaining virtually any Latino voters for at least a generation. That would doom Republican elections in states like California and Texas for the foreseeable future.

The Dreamers were on the move. Young people who were born in Mexico and other parts of Latin America and raised in the United States stood up to take their rightful place. Based on a lifetime of study and hard work, they would not allow their dreams to be shattered due to the lack of a Social Security number or driver’s license. They were truly “undocumented and unafraid!”

With the mandate of a decisive win of a second term, it appeared that President Barack Obama would finally honor the commitment made in his first term—comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

History Takes a Different Course

In what seems like overnight, history took a different course. Many blame the Democrats or the Obama administration for losing its steel; others cite the emerging Tea Party and ultra-right elements of the Republican Party. Or perhaps it was a complex convergence of all these factors into a perfect storm. Whatever the case, in 2014, the movement for immigrants’ rights, with its momentum and dreams shattered, has been forced to make hard choices.

On March 16, the May 1st Coalition for Immigrant Rights held its biannual meeting to determine the course ahead and how to continue fighting for immigration reform. Among the topics discussed was the recurring theme of immigration reform that would deny citizenship; it could do more harm than good. For the first time, experienced activists acknowledged the possibility that “no immigration reform is better than what is on the table.”

Among the measures contained in the legislation being proposed by both Republicans and Democrats are the following:

  • $6.5 billion (Republican) and $8.3 billion (Democrat) immediately allocated to border security and enforcement.
  • Waiver of all legal requirements in order to assure a swift and unhindered buildout of the border fence and other security measures.
  •  “Effectiveness rate of 90%,” which mandates the expeditious deportation of 90% of those who enter the country without documents.
  • A “border security” zone that extends up to 100 miles from the southern border and that would employ the use of manned and unmanned aerial surveillance craft, as well as fixed and mobile video and other surveillance equipment.
  • Border security measures would operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week and include ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and National Guard resources at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Grounds for ineligibility include one felony conviction or three misdemeanors and any violation in one’s home country, which would be considered grounds for disqualification in the United States.
  • Electronic verification of Social Security and eligibility for employment and severe penalties for use of false Social Security numbers and other forms of identification.
  • An agricultural worker who does not work up to 60 days can lose his status and be forced to return to his home country until he is able to acquire new employment.

Even more astounding than the oppressive enforcement measures is the fact that even these conservative bills will not move forward due to the fast approaching November elections. Once again, the fate of millions is held hostage to political maneuvering.

However, the leadership of the movement for immigrant rights has decided they can no longer wait for immigration reform. They will not be deterred nor subject to the narrow choices provided by the political environment.

The movement is evolving and adopting new strategies that will depart from the course presented by the dominant parties. The leadership is turning toward the street and developing strategies for empowering immigrants in their daily struggles with selective enforcement, vehicle impounds and deportations. The new slogan is “Not one more deportation!”

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Stan Santos is a volunteer in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. is his website. Contact him at

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