October 17, 2009

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Illinois Democrat, kick-started the coming immigration debate this week by delivering a 10-point plan for immigration reform that looks like a solid progressive start:

Pathway to legalization for undocumented workers

Professional and effective border enforcement

Smart and humane interior enforcement

Protecting workers

Verification systems

Family unity as a cornerstone of our immigration system

Future flows of workers



Promoting immigrant integration

[Go read the details.]

Then he went on Lou Dobbs' CNN program to discuss the plan with an obviously skeptical Dobbs -- who, of course, had to whine about how he was being attacked as a racist, just for promoting an extremist agenda.

In the process, he makes clear just what the primary cry of the nativists in the upcoming debate will be: "Amnesty!"

DOBBS: Fundamental to the question becomes, is it every illegal immigrant, is it unconditional amnesty, and what will be the impact of that? And those are issues. Think about it, we're here in 2009, some left wing ethnocentric interest groups are calling for my firing from CNN because I'm quote unquote a racist. I could obtain purity in a moment if I would just simply embrace open borders and sponsor illegal immigration. That's the kind of distortion that is not helpful. The reality is, we have some basic questions that people are avoiding asking. And if I may, let me ask a couple and see how we go and go forward. One, should every illegal immigrant in this country receive amnesty?

Gutierrez, however, is up to the job, and gives a clear and sensible answer:

GUTIERREZ: I believe that every undocumented worker in this country who can come forward and show that they've violated no other law except the immigration law, which they used breaking the immigration law to arrive in this country, that's it. No other felony, no other criminal record. That they are sustentative, they got family, they've got a job, they've been working, and they're ready to prove that by bringing forward and going through a very rigorous background check, we should give them an opportunity. Does that mean they go directly to permanent residency and directly to citizenship? No, we have to earn that too. But I think we can give them a program of five, six years which they continue to work, pay taxes, learn English, civics, become fully incorporated and at the end, if they fill the test, then we'll let them stay. But I want them to earn because in the interim period, many Americans say they're here and they're not paying their fair share. My program says, let them pay their fair share. Because we don't have political will, we don't have the programs to deport them, why don't we integrate them? There will be undesirable immigrants to this country, which we can weed out of the program very easily. We can have a set of rules.

It was a good start, if the objective is to make this a rational debate. And certainly, that's what progressives will want to do, because they have the facts and hard realities on their side.

Not that it means we'll actually get a rational debate. The Dobbses seem intent on ignoring the facts and whipping up people's fears, and we can expect that's what we'll get from the Fox crew as well.

Still, anticipating that, progressives need to find a common set of principles for advancing real immigration reform that works and makes valued citizens out of marginalized immigrants, brings them into the labor force (especially as union members) and taxpayers. Because there is going to be a lot of divisive crap thrown up in this debate, and lot of different and competing legislative plans. It will be important to keep our eyes on the prize.

To that end, Duke1676 at MigraMatters has put together a list of 25 principles for progressives in the immigration debate, including:

-- End policies that rely only on enforcement and deterrence as the sole means of regulating migration.

-- Address the root causes of immigration, and change US policy so that it doesn't foster and produce conditions that force hundreds of thousands of people each year to leave their countries of origin in order to simply survive.

-- Tie all current and future trade, military, and foreign aid agreements to not only worker protections both here and abroad, but also to their ability to foster economic progress and social justice for the working class and poor in sender nations.

-- Formulate a reasonable, humane, fair and practical method for determining the levels of immigration going forward. Establish an independent commission free from the pressures of political expediency and business interests to review all the pertinent data and set admission numbers based on labor, economic, social, and humanitarian needs.

-- Provide a path to legalization for all current undocumented immigrants living and working in the US, free of restrictions based on country of origin, economic status, education, length of residency, or any other “merit based” criteria.

-- Secure the borders by first ensuring that the vast majority of new immigrants have the ability and opportunity to legally enter the country through legal ports of entry by increasing the availability and equitable distribution of green cards. This would curtail the flow of migration through illegal channels. Only after that, should enforcement begin to ensure compliance, or any work to physically secure the border take place.

And finally, the bottom line:

Recognize that immigration is a vital part of maintaining a healthy and vibrant America. It is what has set this nation apart from all others since its inception. To close our borders to new immigrants is to cut off the lifeblood that has always made this nation grow and prosper.

These are good starts. Progressives are setting the table for a rational debate on immigration. We're inviting conservatives to join us. But we're not holding our breaths.

Below: Another video of Rep. Gutierrez outlining his plan.

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