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Immigration reform proposal is a good start

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  January 28, 2013 03:16 PM

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ACLU of Massachusetts Staff Counsel Laura Rótolo contributed the following:

The initial Congressional plan to reform our broken immigration system is a good start, but can be improved to ensure we don't lose fundamental rights along the way. The plan includes some positive provisions, such as a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows. It also includes proposals that can affect civil liberties and add to the runaway spending on border security.

First, the good news. The bipartisan plan sets out a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements and pay fines and back taxes, including special paths for young people who came to the U.S. as children, agricultural workers, and those who have earned graduate degrees from U.S. colleges.
These aspiring citizens are productive members of their communities, but up until now, their lack of status has meant that they cannot access the same rights and legal protections that the rest of us take for granted. They can be exploited by employers and live in constant fear of deportation and separation from their families. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizen children have been put into foster care because their parents were deported under the Obama administration.

This proposal would ensure that aspiring citizens are entitled to the full protection of our laws, and can contribute to their communities without fearing deportation.
It also would ease the burden on the deportation and detention system, which last year spent nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement to deport approximately 410,000 people. (That’s about $44,000 per deported person.)

This is all good news and a step in the right direction. But there are provisions that require some work.

First, the path to citizenship will not be open until a broad border security plan is implemented. This includes more personnel and newer technology, including more unmanned drones. More border security is not the answer. In the past three years, we have seen record spending and the emergence of a border-industrial complex that includes a fence, Black Hawk helicopters, and almost 10 border patrol agents per mile. (If lined up from San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX, the agents would be within eyeshot of each other.)

The fact is that, today, apprehensions of migrants at the border are at a 40-year low. Yet, according to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, "there has been more money, manpower, infrastructure, technology, invested in the border-protection mission in the last three years than ever before."

Second, the proposal mandates an employment verification system--likely the flawed E-Verify system--that is based on data with large error rates. This wouldn’t affect only immigrants. Mandating the use of E-Verify for everyone would mean that, for the first time in history, employers would have to run a computer check against a government database before any American could start a new job. It is estimated that there would be errors in the files of 1.2 million U.S. citizens and legal workers, which could lead to many being denied jobs wrongfully. In tough economic times, this system is an unacceptable barrier between a worker and a new job.

In addition, E-Verify would take the country down a dangerous path to a national I.D. card, complete with mandated biometric data gathering. Because the system is internet-based, and contains information on every American, including photos and soon drivers’ licenses, it could easily become a de facto national identity system. It could be used at airports or federal facilities to confirm identity, and be combined with travel, financial, or watch list information. The errors in E-Verify would then automatically interfere with the right to travel and other fundamental freedoms, irreparably damaging the fabric of American life.

The bipartisan group drafting this new proposal should be commended for moving forward on a roadmap that brings the millions of people living in the shadows of American society into the light. But we should be careful not to lose important rights that affect all of us along the way.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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