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Isabel Garcia: Proposed reforms implies if it was practical, 11 million people should be deported – this tone informs the rest of the proposals

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

On Wednesday, the White House released details of President Obama’s proposal on immigration reform. Here are the four main headlines. Number one, continue to strengthen border security. Cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers. Earn citizenship. And streamlining legal immigration.

Now joining us to discuss President Obama’s proposal is Isabelle Garcia. She’s the cochair of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos in Tucson, Arizona. She’s a criminal defense and immigration lawyer, and she’s on the board of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. And she joins us from Tucson.

Thanks for joining us again, Isabel.

ISABEL GARCIA, COCHAIR, DERECHOS HUMANOS: You’re welcome. Thank you so much.

JAY: So let’s work our way through these notes that came from the White House, President Obama’s proposal. But just before we do, just give me an overall impression of what you think of what he’s suggesting.

GARCIA: Well, I think it’s pretty unfortunate that President Obama has not chosen to take a stronger, more honest approach to immigration reform, that he has given in still to, you know, quote, security hawks. And so that’s initially my impression, that this is going to be very limited, with huge costs.

JAY: Okay. Well, let’s go through the proposal. And we’ll start with the first thing, “Continuing to Strengthen Border Security”. And here’s a bit of what they say: “by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.” So I guess most people hearing that will say, well, what’s wrong with that.

GARCIA: People would say that only because there’s been a lot of fear, especially since 9/11.

People need to understand in this country that migration from Mexico has been ongoing ever since we took half of Mexico, but in very specific intentional terms since the beginning of the century. In the early 1900s, they decided they needed to bring in Mexicans to build. And we have kept up that practice for a long time. We don’t have 11 million people just out of accident or because we’re humane. We have 11 million people here undocumented because our economy depends on them. And so to characterize this as national security threats on the border is absolutely wrong.

Migration worldwide, and not just here, is a socioeconomic-political phenomenon that we have contributed to. We have made the call for Mexicans to come to work in the United States for over 100 years. That really has not changed.

JAY: I’ve told this story before on The Real News, but in ’91, I was researching a film. I was on the Tijuana border—I was on the Mexican side of the Tijuana border, and the sun was going down, and people were ready to go into California when it got dark. And there must have been 400—300, 400 people lined up on either side of me ready to cross, completely out in the open. In fact, there was like a fest, that people were selling popcorn and other kinds of food there. And on the other side waiting to stop people from coming in was nobody, because it was harvest season in California and they wanted all this labor to come in. And they were treating it like a valve, to let labor in when they wanted it, and then they could threaten people once they got there.

GARCIA: That’s absolutely correct. But migration has gone down to the lowest it’s been in 40 years, so we’ve got to keep that in mind as well.

JAY: Well, these days, enforcement, I think, has gotten—is much stiffer than when I was there. But I guess the point I’m making is many of the people that are undocumented that are here are here ’cause there were jobs for them and employers wanted them, and there was no real security at the border to stop it, precisely for those reasons.

GARCIA: Absolutely. We’ve used border, you know, security when our economy demands it. We’re restrictive at those times. Otherwise, we’ve been—the secret that nobody wants to say is that we’ve had an open border with Mexico in a lot of ways. In other words, it’s not militarized.

If we militarize this border, I mean, people have to understand what the economic cost is: 18 billion just last year, more than all the combined budgets of the rest of the federal law enforcement agencies combined. And now we’re asking for even more, while we don’t have, you know, jobs and schools and health care and bad roads. We’re building this other arm that really doesn’t relate or respond to the issue at hand.

JAY: What do you make of people who argue that if you do create this path to citizenship, which is later in the proposal, and you do regularize anyone who’s here who’s undocumented, and if the border isn’t “secure”, quote-unquote, then why wouldn’t tens of thousands or more people from not just Mexico but from all over Latin America make their way up and come to the United States?

GARCIA: A couple of things. First of all, that’s a failure of this alleged comprehensive immigration reform. If we were comprehensive about it, we would look immediately to why people are coming. And no one—not the Democrats, not the Republicans—want to look at that.

So, yes, I agree with people that if we’re wondering, wait a minute, is this a one-time thing, what is it that we need to do to fix it, I think we have to look at what our policies are. I mean, NAFTA has propelled 6 million workers out of agriculture in Mexico, and they crossed unlawfully into the United States. We had a boom, right? Right now we’re at a low, but we had a massive crossing. You described it in what you saw in Tijuana. So why don’t we deal with policies that the United States has that is causing mass migration from the sending countries?

I think—let me tell you, I’ve been involved in this issue since ’76. People don’t necessarily want to come. People have asked me, please, not only fight for humans’ right to migrate, but why don’t you fight for the right for us to remain home, that you don’t enact policies that impact our livelihood?

And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve allowed Monsanto to do away with, you know, corn producing in Mexico. And so I agree with what they’re saying.

But on the other hand, people need to understand that we’ve never had immigration laws that reflect the reality. The reality is what? That we’ve invited almost 11 million people to come here. We also have to acknowledge that families must be unified, that a border cannot keep families separated and that we should not do that. And thirdly, we should look at other policies, such as our alleged war on drugs, that is causing more and more migration into the United States.

I think if we’re going to talk about comprehensive, that’s what we need to deal with, not enforcement at the border. Even Napolitano herself said, if we build a 50-foot wall, people will build a 51-foot ladder. I mean, that is not what we’re talking about. This is not a law enforcement or a national security issue. I beg to differ.

JAY: I mean, I guess the argument would be, if you’re going to have a free-trade agreement with Mexico, then, one, even some people on the right have argued in favor of this, that there should be also free coming and going of people in free trade zone countries. And number two, the free trade agreement actually has to be good for the economies of all the countries involved, and it clearly hasn’t been good for Mexico.

Alright. Let’s move on to the next part of President Obama’s proposal, “Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers”. The notes say, “Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.” So they’re going to crack down on employers, which they never have. They’ve always allowed employers to more or less hire undocumented workers at will. What do you make of this proposal? Because—I’m going to get to a point, ’cause something I don’t get about all of this is, if they really crack down on employers, then what’s supposed to happen to all these people that are going to get fired now?

GARCIA: Well, I’d like to begin with the observation that the premise is absolutely faulty. If we want immigration reform and they’re responding to the issue that, you know, elected people here, it’s not employer sanctions, it is not more immigration enforcement that we want. What we want is a full legalization.

Cracking down on employers just sounds great, right? We all say, oh, yeah, those employers, those terrible employers that crack down. However, do we question what we pay for fruit and vegetables here, the clothes that I wear, the housing I have? To a large part, immigrants have impoverished their lives to enrich our lives. And so, to say that they’re going to crack down on employers is ridiculous.

We already have employer sanctions right on the books, which we fought in 1986. But we know that there’s not enough enforcement. And I don’t believe that our tax money should go for enforcement at the work site.

JAY: Well, that’s what the proposal—the proposal is about a new big electronic system with social security cards that are more verified, and then a onus on employers to use this electronic verification program. And if they—.

GARCIA: Do we want that? Do we want those violations of privacy? I knew a United States of America where people who—said, hey, you know, I’m a tramp and I go across the country and I don’t have to have an ID and nobody’s going to have my information. We have a very strong privacy sentiment in this country. And because of 9/11, everybody’s giving in. And as the world globalizes, that we have no borders, they say, for capital and intellectual property and such, and yet now we’re going to police ourselves to the point of each of us having this verifiable national ID.

I think it’s absolutely wrongheaded. It’s absolutely wrongheaded, goes for surveillance of all of our community, between the employment of surveillance and along the community, because here in Tucson, everybody’s afraid of the police department. With SB 1070 the law on the books here, we’re all under a police state. So I think it’s wrong.

JAY: But don’t you think a country has a right to tell employers that people have to be in the country legally documented before you can hire them? If you take this issue aside, that—so many people are here undocumented because they were more or less invited here, really. But if you separate that question as a principle, don’t you think a country can say to its employers, you can only hire people that are legally here?

GARCIA: I don’t think—it depends on the problem you’re trying to address. And in this particular situation, no, I think it’s wrong. I think when you say the government, well, yes, the government can—you know, we have a government. Is it wrong? I think it’s absolutely wrong. Why aren’t we having a government say to the corporate interests that are going into Mexico and, you know, doing away and displacing Mexican workers that in the end cross over to the United States—why aren’t we doing that? Why aren’t we cracking down on Wall Street?

People say, oh, well, the people crossed unlawfully. We’ve invited them. For generations, Mexico has entire towns that—where their young men of working age are all in the United States or Canada, but mainly in the United States, and behind are the women, the grandparents, and the children. We’ve established this pattern with Mexico for a long time, and I think it’s time that we acknowledge that and legalize everybody and not go back to what we’ve done. We’ve had a thriving workforce without having employer sanctions, without having employer verification system.

Do you know what that does as well? It institutionalizes racism or racial profiling, because as we discuss this issue, even at a societal level, we’re having an impact on our children and everybody else and employers saying, boy, I wonder if this employee has papers? You know, she speaks Spanish and doesn’t speak—.

JAY: Well, let’s look at that next part of the proposal, then, “Earned Citizenship”. It says, “It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.” It’s interesting it says “not practical.” It doesn’t say it’d be morally wrong; it just says it’s impractical. “The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.” What do you make of that?

GARCIA: I see it as almost a very rough obstacle course for people. In other words, these limitations are meant to diminish the number of people who can successfully get on this famous path for citizenship. Remember, it’s not—we don’t go after citizenship. The first thing you have to do is become a permanent lawful resident. In the Senate, of course, they want to condition it to border security, but the president is still creating such a tough road. Who’s going to determine back taxes?

And I’m telling you, I object from the very tone of what he’s saying, because it’s basically saying that they’ve done wrong, that if it were practical to deport 11 million people, we should. It’s not only not practical; it’s immoral, it’s the unfair thing to do when we have millions of people, again, that have been enriching our lives while impoverishing their own.

Just ask the auditor of the Social Security suspense fund. He will tell you that the over $220 billion that will pay for my Social Security comes from the earnings and the taxes paid by undocumented workers. Why should they pay a fine? They’ve been paying taxes, they’ve been subsidizing us in so many ways. And all the credible studies will verify. And so that’s why I’m upset.

JAY: The politics of all this is that Latinos, Hispanic-speaking people voted in large numbers for President Obama. It was one of the things that helped him swing the last elections. And everyone’s talking about the future of American elections to a large extent are going to be decided by Hispanics and Latinos. Is this going to please people or not, these proposals?

GARCIA: Well, I’ll tell you, the sound of it is already pleasing some people, just because they’re so hungry for reform. But once they learn the details of this immigration reform, I think the Latino voter is not going to be that superficial. I think the Latino voter is going to actually see what this reform really results in.

Remember, when we had amnesty, we only legalized half of the undocumented worker force at that time in ’86; we didn’t have all of these tough requirements, and yet legalized only half. The good thing back then is that we didn’t have this huge enforcement apparatus that we now have.

JAY: In the next part of our interview, I’m going to ask Isabel Garcia what her immigration reform would look like. So please join us for part two of the interview on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Isabel Garcia is the co-chair of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos in Tucson, Arizona. She's a criminal defense and immigration lawyer, and she is on the board of the National Network For Immigrant and Refugee Rights.