Yesterday, tens of thousands of people carrying U.S. flags pressed for immigrants’ rights by holding demonstrations in dozens of cities. The protesters called for a path to legal residency for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The marches sought to put “the spotlight on the fact our country’s current — and very broken — immigration system tears apart families when undocumented parents are deported or loved ones have to face long, complicated procedures to ever be allowed legal entry” into the country. In cities across the nation — from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles — demonstrators carried signs that read “Keep Families United” and “Don’t Deport Our Parents,” focusing their rallies on deportation raids that could separate more than three million U.S.-born children from their parents who are subject to deportation.
- Deportation raids are tearing apart families and dividing communities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, “facing intense political pressure to toughen enforcement, removed 221,664 illegal immigrants from the country over the last year, an increase of more than 37,000 — about 20 percent — over the year before, according to the agency’s tally.” President Bush has heralded the apprehensions as a sign of progress. The raids have bitterly divided local communities and ripped apart immigrant communities. “A March 6 raid of a New Bedford, MA, leather factory resulted in the detention of 361 undocumented immigrants, and stories circulated through the immigrant community there of small children and babies separated from their parents.” So far, the effect has been to cause undocumented families “to hunker down and plot ways to avoid detection and resist deportation, not run voluntarily for the border.” “People are intimidated. They’re scared,” said 22-year-old Juan Hernandez, who joined protesters in Houston. “People who are undocumented leave for work every day with the fear that they won’t come home to their families.”
- Time is short for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. “We face a critical choice — between a future as a nation of immigrants, or a future measured by higher walls and longer fences,” Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) said yesterday, advocating a comprehensive plan that includes 1) tough border enforcement, 2) an earned legalization program, and 3) a temporary worker program. “To earn legal status, immigrants would have to work, pay taxes, learn English, obey our laws, and pay a penalty for violating the law. Completing the process would take several years.” He said yesterday, “We need to do all we can to create strong bipartisan support for this approach. The population of this country has waited long enough for immigration reform. The time is right, and the result is up to us.” Kennedy is urging his colleagues to come to the negotiating table for a “last-ditch attempt to pass a sweeping bill before their efforts are swallowed up by an early campaign season and an acrimonious political mood.” In the House, Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) are rallying bipartisan support for a comprehensive approach.
- The right is moving further away from the comprehensive reform that is needed. The New York Times writes that Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and John McCain (R-AZ) “have complicated the prospects of a bipartisan immigration bill that would affect millions of lives.” Brownback “was a co-sponsor of last year’s bipartisan Senate bill. But this year he bailed out of negotiations,” and recently “disowned his vote for last year’s bill, to the delight of conservatives who scorned him as ‘Amnesty Sam.'” McCain, once the chief conservative proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, is now distancing himself from Kennedy and “reconsidering his views on how the immigration law might be changed” after meeting with conservative voters in Iowa. In November 2005, then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) pointedly noted that the Senate comprehensive immigration reform proposal was not amnesty. (The Boston Globe posted audio of his remarks here.) Last month, Romney reversed course and said “McCain-Kennedy isn’t the answer,” describing it “as an amnesty plan that would reward people for breaking the law and cost taxpayers millions to provide them benefits.”