What a Progressive Immigration Reform Bill Looks Like
Isabel Garcia: A full amnesty and path to citizenship is the only reform that respects human rights and the fact that most undocumented workers were de facto invited into the country
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
This is part two of our interview with Isabel Garcia on immigration reform. And she now joins us again from Tucson. Isabel is cochair of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos in Tucson. She’s a criminal defense and immigration lawyer. She’s on the board of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Thanks for joining us again.
ISABEL GARCIA, COCHAIR, DERECHOS HUMANOS: Thank you very much.
JAY: So my main question to you is: what would immigration reform look like if you wrote it? But just before you go there, let me just ask you one basic question of principle. Does a country, does the United States have a right to say how many people can migrate to it each year, put some numbers and limits on it, and control its borders so not more than that can get in?
GARCIA: Absolutely. A government has total rights. I mean, I guess the issue becomes is: is the government making the right decisions? And we’ve not been making the right decisions. But do we have a right? Absolutely.
JAY: And then there’s something specific which we discussed in part one. We don’t have to go over it again, but there’s a specific issue with immigrants that have come from Mexico because for decades they were encouraged to come, even though there was no real legal status and way to come. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people were essentially asked to come to work in agriculture and other parts of the American economy, and that’s why there’s something specific about the people that are already here and undocumented. So that’sâ€”if you haven’t watched part one, we talked about more of that in part one.
Now let’s go to the question. If you were writing immigration reform, what would it look like?
GARCIA: Well, I think that immigration reform is, like, an urgency. I would divide it in three broad aspects. And I will begin with the first one. And I think that we must deal with the root cause of migration, period. We should have done that 20 years ago, last year, yesterday, tomorrow, next year. We need to address the issue of mass migration, why people are coming.
And then we have to address the role that the United States policy has been in those countries that have caused people to migrate unlawfully into the United States. I’ve already talked about the free trade agreement. NAFTA has propelled 6 million undocumented farm workers here. Our war in El Salvador, for instance, propelled hundreds of thousands of political refugees. Our drug war in Mexico is causing refugees. And you can see that other policies across the world with those countries result in migration here. So it’s essential that we deal with root cause.
I mean, this is notâ€”
JAY: Okay. Let me just ask you a question about that.
GARCIA: â€”a national security issue. I’m sorry?
JAY: Let me ask you about that, becauseâ€”you know, you won’t get, obviously, an argument from me about that, but that’s a pretty long-term issue. You’re asking for a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy, a fundamental change in U.S. commercial relations with these countries, and that ain’t happening soon.
GARCIA: I think it can be quicker. But we must deal with it. We must deal with it. And I believe that there are quick measures that instead of investing $18 billion on the border last year, that we could have engaged in employment activity that could have been much more beneficial to Mexcians or any other ofâ€”you know, even our residents along the border. I think it’s just time we do it.
This argument that, oh, that’s long-term, well, you know, ten years ago, 15 years ago, whenever we engaged in NAFTA, we’ve been saying ever since then, when are you going to stop? Candidate Obama understood it. Candidate Obama in 2008, 2007 said, I would reform these free trade agreements because they displace. So he didn’t, and we have more workers.
So it’s got to be done now.
JAY: Okay. What’s point two?
GARCIA: And especially to acknowledge it. Why not at least acknowledge that migration has to do with economics, that we should encourage people to be with your families? That’s the social part of it, because human beings form families. We should have that as our cornerstone of our reform. So that’s number one, changing policy.
Number two, I would say reform our current immigration laws to reflect the reality. The reality is that we’ve invited 11 million undocumented people here. I mean, you can say here or there, you know, there’sâ€”we’re all human beings, so you can say, oh, there’s a murderer here and a rapist here, that sort of thing. But by and large, the vast majority of immigrants are here because we’ve invited them to build our country.
We should give meaningful and widespread amnesty without creating this incredible costly process to determine who’s the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant. I think we need to have as meaningful, as broad of a legalization program as possible. That would take care of everybody here.
And thirdly, and very dear to my heart, is we need to begin the demilitarization of our border and our communities, because now you’re being militarized, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the state of Washington or in Iowa. We are giving way toâ€”you know, we’ve created Arizona as the laboratory to do everything that’s anti-immigrant, and we’re using everywhere. We’re going to add more border patrol agentsâ€”imagine that, when migration is at an all-time low. So who exactly are they going after? It goes to show you that [crosstalk] going after all of us.
JAY: Okay. Now, let me ask youâ€”so, such a broad amnestyâ€”and this is part of what President Obama’s proposal is supposed to try to deal withâ€”is that in fact there are a lot of people who have committed, you know, violent crimes or other kinds of crimes or involved in narcotrafficking and such. I mean, it’sâ€”I know it’s a tiny minority of the people we’re talking about, a sliver, but there are such people. Does it not need to be ifâ€”there’s a process of amnesty that does deal with that?
GARCIA: Well, very limited, because let me tell you, there is an awful lot of information on everybody, you and I, and especially the immigrant population. And yes, there can be arguments. It’s not going to come from me, because I’m telling you, I’m a criminal defense attorney. I know many people who’ve made mistakes in their lives, and they pay dearly. They pay a ten-year period of sentence or 20 years. We have a criminal justice system that deals with that. I don’t believe that families should be divided.
Okay. So you want violent people out of there. Do you know that we have created an $18 billion apparatus? For what? For a few people?
We continue to criminalize people for illegal entry. Did you know that? Here in Tucson we will have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who will not be eligible, because they’ve been deported before. So they’re not going to get eligibility. And those that came back to be with their families, they’ve been found guilty of a felony. Did you know it was a felony to be found in the United States after having been formally deported? We criminalize these by the thousands here in Tucson.
President Obama, as well as the senators, want to increase this costly program that does nothing for the good of this country.
And so to look at more details, I invite you to look at our framework. Derechos Humanos‘ framework is at www.derechoshumanosaz.net (AZ for Arizona), www.derechoshumanosaz.net, and you will find our response, our framework that we issued on international [crosstalk]
JAY: Well, I invite our viewers to do that. Go take a look. Underneath the video there’s a comments section here. So you make your comments on those proposals and President Obama’s proposals, and we’ll invite Isabel back and some other experts on this issue and can respond to some of your questions and comments about all of this.
GARCIA: Thank you.
JAY: So we will pursue this further. Thanks very much for joining us, Isabel.
GARCIA: Thank all of you so much. Bye-bye.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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