RD to immigration advocates: are there any limits?
Tactaquin of the National Network took a decidedly more skeptical approach, saying that, “We’ve always been anxious about immigration for employment because in this country that’s been associated a lot with guest worker or temporary worker programs that have been historically abusive and exploitative.” Nevertheless, she continued by saying that while the construction of an employment-based program that was not exploitative was “very challenging [and] will require considerable study and agreement before it moves forward,” it should be considered so long as participants do have “decent wages…fair working conditions…and access to green cards.”
It is conventionally part of public policy debates for advocates and policy makers to describe what they believe would be the impact of their proposals, and Remapping Debate put this question to each of the advocates interviewed. In each case — despite multiple attempts to find out — the advocates did not provide specifics on the numerical impact of the policy changes these organizations sought in addition to and beyond a one-time process of legalization. Martinez-de-Castro acknowledged that the reformed, “more functional” system she supported creating on a permanent basis would facilitate the abiliity of many people to come or remain here legally, but she would not provide any estimate of the scope of the impact. After avoiding the question initially, she told us, “I’m not sure.” Said Tactaquin, “I really can’t tell numbers.”
Our inquiries to Esposito were similarly unavailing: “I can’t quantify it, unfortunately,” she said. “Our organization doesn’t say we want ‘x’ number of people. I’d be making it up.”
No willingness to engage in discussion of acceptable enforcement
Tactaquin readily acknowledged “all sovereign countries have [the] basic right” to control a national border, but also asserted a “right to mobility.” What yields, I asked, when the right to mobility collides with the right to control a border? Tactaquin took a long pause before retreating to broad language about everything “getting down to the question of fairness and dignity.” (She did say, without providing sought-for specifics, that the conflict could result in a person “not being able to move.”)
Esposito was repeatedly evasive on this question until finally stating directly that she was unwilling to provide any illustration of acceptable enforcement. She did not want to say that the government has the authority to enforce the immigration law, but rather that the government has “the authority to manage migration” consistent with its human rights obligations. In describing the current system as “inhumane,” she described families who had been in the U.S. for decades being split up as a result of deportations that occurred “without any due process whatsoever.”
Probing to see whether the concern was process-based or results-based, I asked her to imagine a circumstance under a reformed system where due process was present. “You’re describing something that’s not the law,” Esposito responded. Underlining that the nature of the inquiry had to do with getting the Coalition’s view of what the rules should be, and the bases and rationales for that view, I posed the question anew: would you, I asked, have an objection to a process that didn’t have any flaws but nevertheless resulted in the splitting of a family?
That is “a very difficult hypothetical to answer,” Esposito said, “even in cases where there has been due process we don’t want to see families torn apart.”
But where between the current level of restrictions and zero restrictions would the Coalition like to see a system wind up? And isn’t it legitimate to ask advocates “how would it work if it were up to you” questions? “My work is not to tell the government what limitations to place on immigration reform,” Esposito said. “The New York Immigration Coalition does not provide policy recommendations about limiting future flows of immigrants.”
Her ultimate conclusion was that, if the “right factors” were considered (factors she identified as ties to the community and living a productive life), then there would not be circumstances where families would be split.
Focusing on “innocence,” but not acknowledging the consequences
In many circumstances, immigration advocates are faced with those who view undocumented immigrants as having engaged in serious wrongdoing. Advocates in turn tend to focus on the fact that, outside of the immigration violation, both legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants are hard working and law abiding.
Remapping Debate explicitly accepted the advocates’ point of view, but pursued a point of crucial interest to many of those open to a one-time mass legalization of those already in the U.S.: what about next time? I was less interested in the historical fact that the 1986 path to citizenship during the Reagan Administration had been touted as a one-time exception to the rule, than in how the current arguments of advocates for legalization — arguments that focus on innocence and on the hardship that results on a personal level from applying immigration laws and regulations — would or would not apply in years to come.