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HR4437 & SR2454: The Deal With the Bills
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The trouble started with a bill proposal written by Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis). On December 16, 2005, the House of Representatives passed HR4437, a bill that emphasized strict border enforcement and criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and for those who employ them.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center writes that HR4437 would increase the legal repercussions of any act of disobedience committed by an undocumented immigrant, raising it from the status of civil violation to a criminal act. Without a temporary work visa or a green card, an immigrant could be charged with a felony simply for living in this country. Anyone who attempts to reenter after deportation could be jailed for a period of one to ten years as a mandatory minimum sentence.
Currently, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from entering the United States outside the channels of a systematic naturalization process. Unauthorized immigration is considered to be a criminal misdemeanor in the United States, and anyone convicted of that such an offense could be put in prison for up to two years. Employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants can be fined up to 3 thousand dollars per hire and can be jailed for six months. While the current sanctions clearly demonstrate the government’s opposition to illegal immigration, HR4437 amplifies them to a startling degree.
As of now, if any unauthorized immigrant is cited for a crime, the judicial system has to prove that the individual can be deported without great cost to his or her family members. However, under HR4437, an undocumented immigrant who is charged with an aggravated felony, which could be any civil violation, would have to obtain public records to prove that he or she is not deportable (guilty until proven innocent?). State and local authorities would have “inherent authority” to enforce immigration laws, meaning that law enforcement would have the power to investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain and transfer to federal custody immigrants they find in the United States. Not only could this bill drastically increase government control over mitigating the U.S. population, but also the degree to which they control the private labor sector.
HR4437 would expand the definition of “alien smuggling” to include any form of assistance to a person when the “offender” knows that person is in the United States illegally. Social service organizations, refugee agencies, churches, legal services and others could then receive criminal penalties for any aid provided to those deemed ‘illegal immigrants.’ The bill would also implicate families and charitable organizations that help unauthorized immigrants in any way, shape or form.
The bill also makes it feasible for the Government to deport any immigrant who is associated with a street gang, with or without a recorded violation. An immigrant who has never committed a crime can be deported, denied admission and the ability to obtain lawful status, subjected to mandatory detention and denied all forms of protection if the Attorney General concludes that the individual is associated with a designated street gang.
HR4437 passed in the House of Representatives. However, the matter has not been resolved in the Senate. Senators are in the midst of drawing up a response to the bill, and deep political divisions have made it a difficult and arduous process. Mainstream Democrats and Republicans have shown clear support for increasing border security and finding a way to restrict immigration while maintaining a cheap labor supply for employers through some kind of guest worker program. The Republican Party has split over the issue. One group favors a bill that would only clamp down on immigration, while the other believes that any immigration legislation must preserve a supply of low-cost labor for an economy that depends upon it. Other Senators, such as Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), John McCain (R-Arizona), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb), Gloria Romero (D-LA) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla) have proposed bills that support tougher border enforcement and would enact a guest worker program as well as a plan for undocumented immigrants to gain legal citizenship.
The L. A. Times writes that a Senate bill would focus mainly on border enforcement, a guest-worker program and allowing undocumented immigrants the opportunity to gain citizenship if they meet certain criteria. The Senate bill would break immigrants down into three groups. Those who arrived in the United States after January 2004 would have to leave the country permanently, though they could still apply for a work visa in the future. People who entered before January 2004 could apply for a six-year visa provided they show good character, pay a 2 thousand dollar fine, and at the end of that time pass a background check to receive a green card. Undocumented workers who have been here for less than five years would have to leave the country briefly before applying for a work visa.
Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), who have been leading advocates of tougher border enforcement, recently put in a proposal that would grant some illegal immigrants the chance to gain legal status if they are married, have children and have planted ‘deep roots’ in the United States.
With approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, a lot is riding on the Senate’s answer to HR4437. Unauthorized immigrants participate in a critical percentage of the United States work force. The Congressional Research Service Report on Immigration states that undocumented workers make up ten percent of all construction jobs, eleven percent of agricultural labor and fourteen percent of private households.
The San Jose Mercury News writes that HR4437 has stimulated international protest. In Honduras union members have boycotted U.S. soft drinks and fast food. President Bolaños of Nicaragua issued a special message to Nicaraguans living in the U.S. saying, “God protect them, and I hope they achieve their goal.” May Day marchers in Guatemala chanted, “Gringos criticize us, but without immigrants they’d be nothing.” And at least six state governors in Mexico have endorsed the boycott of U.S. companies.
Support for immigrants’ rights has long been a topic of debate in the United States, and current legislation propositions have transformed the issue into a crisis at the border. What is clear is that the government is attempting to take control of the immigrant population living in the U.S. during a time of vast public criticism of the War on Terror, rising gas prices and an unsuccessful war in Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn) has said in Washington that the Senate will nominate a bill by the end of May. This coincides with statements made by President Bush who, without making any highly opinionated statements concerning immigrant rights, expects a bill will be in place come Memorial Day.