Mass arrest of undocumented immigrants in U.S. looms

Community News News & Features Philippines Mar 1, 2006 at 4:53 pm

By Nicanor Segovia

SAN FRANCISCO, California–A House bill that aims to criminalize undocumented immigrants in the United States has sent a chilling effect on Filipino-American communities along with other ethnic groups. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Bishop Gerald Barnes, chair of its Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), has itself warned in a recent pastoral letter of a “growing anti-immigration sentiment” and has called for a comprehensive reform of the U.S.’s immigration laws.
According to the recent National Immigration Forum, the bill would also dramatically uproot legal immigrants, citizens and citizens-in-waiting as well as business owners who depend on labor supplied by immigrants.

Filed in the U.S. Congress last December by Reps. James Sensenbrenner, chair of the House judiciary committee, and Peter King, chair of homeland security committee, the bill (or House Resolution 4437), has been widely criticized for targeting some 11 million undocumented immigrants – including many legal immigrants who have temporary status problems – as criminals.

Sources from groups opposed to the bill reveal that many undocumented immigrants come actually from Ireland and Canada, disputing common perceptions that Mexico, Latin America and Asia have contributed largely to the entry of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants, nearly three million are children. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 450,000 new undocumented immigrants enter the United States every year.

Permanent legal status

The USCCB bishops have stated that this population, which has by and large worked for the U.S. economy and otherwise abided by the law, should be allowed to obtain permanent legal status.
Presently, immigrants in the U.S. who are found to have violated the immigration law are deported. Conversely, the Sensenbrenner-King bill will radicalize this policy by tagging undocumented immigrants as criminals and hence subject to state and police arrest. Relatives, employers, co-workers, co-congregants or friends of undocumented immigrants can be charged as “alien smugglers” and likewise arrested.

The bill has also alarmed employers. It proposes what is now billed as “shoot first, aim later” policy establishing an employment authorization verification system and bringing undocumented immigrant workers out of the shadows. The policy threatens to cripple many companies that rely on immigrant labor.

Filipinos, together with Hispanics and other Asians, are lending their voice in opposing the House bill. In New York City last week, members of Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan and Network in Solidarity with the People of the Philippines (NISPOP) held a community forum to tackle the bill, with lawyer Ruben Seguritan as resource speaker.

At the forum, Damayan member Linda Abad said, “The U.S. economy thrives on immigrant labor. It is just and fair for hardworking immigrants workers like us to be allowed legalization, not criminalization.”
Without doubt, said Ofelia Virtucio, a member of Ugnayan, HR 4437 would criminalize many undocumented Filipino youths, tear apart their families and deny them access to education, employment and social services.

Comprehensive reform

In place of HR 4437, groups like the USCCB are supporting comprehensive immigration reform proposals up in the Senate. In particular, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act, introduced by Sens. Edward Kennedy and John McCain, is seen as a comprehensive approach to solving immigration problems.

More responsive legal avenues for immigrant workers and those seeking to be with family, the Kennedy-McCain bill says, will make law-and-border enforcement strategies work.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ call for immigration reform ties in with their campaign against global poverty that is aggravated by new trade policies, among others. “Trade, international economic aid, debt relief, and other types of economic policies should be pursued that result in people not having to migrate in desperation in order to survive,” they said.

Boosting the U.S. economy

Researches show that migrants and their families largely enter the United States to work and thus boost its economy. However, the number of visas is very limited and does not come close to meeting labor market demands.

Contrary to reports that immigrants take away jobs from U.S. citizens, they supplement rather than displace native workers. A recent study by the University of California-Davis reveals that immigrant workers fill jobs in certain industries that are not filled by American workers — such as meatpacking plants in Nebraska, chicken processing plants in Delaware and Maryland and oil-drilling projects in Alaska where there are many Filipino workers.

Immigration restrictions do not seem to reflect government studies predicting a shortage of low-skilled workers – about two million – in the years ahead.

The net benefit of immigration to the United States is nearly $10 billion every year. Seventy percent of immigrants arrive in prime working age and this means not a penny was spent for them in terms of education and the like. Yet over the next 20 years they are expected to pump $500 billion into the country’s social security system.