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Immigration Shaking the Country’s Foundation

Immigration Shaking the Country’s Foundation

By Ramesh Sharma*

Immigration has emerged as one of the most sensitive issues capable of shaking the foundation of this nation as a ‘land of immigrants’. Proposals embodying tough and harsh measures against ‘illegal immigrants and refugees’ accompanied by the unprecedented groundswell of opposition against them seem to have of late marked the recent labyrinthine proceedings of House of Representatives and Senate.

Not only the political forces but also the general public is divided over this burning issue. According to a report published in The Boston Globe (Monday, April 3, 2006), ‘a poll released Sunday by the Associated Press and Ipsos found that 56 percent of those surveyed favor some type of legal status for the undocumented immigrants, with 41 percent opposed’. In the meantime, the pre-election ambience appears to have underscored what is believed to be a visceral reaction on the part of both Republican and Democratic parties, swinging between the two opposite poles.

The issue of illegal immigration, as has rightly assumed the security dimension particularly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, needs to be resolved with perspicacity that conforms to the American tradition of democratic tolerance and mutual accommodation. The magnanimity of the American heart cannot afford to throw the fate illegal immigrants, whose number is estimated at 11 million, into a limbo.

Conspicuously in the wake of massive demonstrations in different parts of the country against what is taken as a serious opprobrium towards illegal immigrants, the bill that was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee had undergone some mollification. The revised version of the proposal that has passed the Committee ‘enables undocumented immigrants to apply for work visas and then for citizenship after meeting requirements, including payment of back taxes, employment, and proof of having no criminal record’. But much to the dismay of millions, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee is determined to upend it.

He is not happy with the way that bill ‘specifically has given a privileged path to citizenship for people who have broken the law’. He is blunt when he says: “If somebody is here and they’re a felon – or multiple misdemeanors – or somebody who is not working, someone who has been here for a year …. yes, I think they’d have to go back home.” Actually, Frist’s observation is a ‘mischaracterization of the Judiciary Committee measure’ as pointed out by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

In view of what is transpiring in the name of effecting comprehensive reforms in the realm of immigration, the present moment is as much defining as it is alarming when it comes to the fundamental rights of immigrants and refugees to determine their own destiny.

A broader bill known as ‘Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act’ introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner was passed 239 to 182 in the House of Representatives on December 16. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), H.R. 4437 ‘would also strip the courts of jurisdiction over most immigration matters; expand expedited removal; expand the definition of aggravated felony; create new groups of deportability and inadmissibility, increase mandatory detention, militarize the border; and place limitations on eligibility for naturalization’. AILA further argued that ‘it would also broaden the definition of alien smuggling to include churches, employers, family members, and immigrant advocates, making all such individuals and groups subject to arrest.’

It is also said that H.R. 4437 would have a seriously detrimental impact on asylum seekers by depriving refugees of review of their cases in the federal courts, keeping more asylum seekers locked up, and undermining a Supreme Court decision preventing indefinite detention.

The issue of immigration and refugees is something not only related to America’s commitment to the fundamental ethos of democracy and human rights but also one of the major determinants of this country’s economic vibrancy and a secure future. Particularly in the present context when this country has been widely excoriated for being ‘unilateralist and arrogant’ Washington cannot afford to make itself more vulnerable by underestimating the legitimate aspirations and sensibilities of millions of immigrants and refugees who have a very high regard for what this country stands for. As far as the gravity of this issue is concerned, President Bush is right when he says: ‘The nation does not have to choose between being a welcoming society and being a lawful society’.


( US-based Sharma, a senior journalist from Nepal, can be reached at

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