January 16, 2013
Senator Rubio announced his plan for comprehensive immigration reform in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. It includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented (illegal) aliens in the U.S. What more for the 12,000 or so legal aliens in the CNMI?
White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Rubio's move indicates a chance for bipartisan cooperation in getting immigration reform passed. President Obama already stated several times that the issue is at the top of his agenda.
I may not have as much hope as the White House may. Rubio is a Tea Party-supported 2016 presidential hopeful who is looking to win over the Latino vote. He would take comprehensive immigration reform and chunk into into four or five piecemeal bills, rather than one comprehensive immigration reform bill. This strategy may further confuse the already broken and confusing system . Some bills could be defeated, some could pass. Who knows how many more years it could take to get the urgent plight of the legal, longterm foreign workers of the CNMI fairly addressed or where their status issue would fall?
According to Politico, Senator Rubio is said to be working on a bill with California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein concerning seasonal and agricultural workers. In the Wall Street Journal interview, Rubio acknowledged that American crops are picked by 1.6 million Hispanic aliens and the majority of them are undocumented. He sees the need to increase the increase the number of visas for permanent and seasonal farm workers. Any legislation should not just address agricultural workers as numbers or labor units, but must recognize that the farm workers are human beings deserving of basic rights. A reform bill should include a fair minimum wage and provisions for decent living and working conditions. It must have the teeth to stop the rampant exploitation of these workers.
The Wall Street Journal says Rubio wants to strengthen border enforcement and immigration laws and allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants to "earn" citizenship. That suggests jumping through major hoops and paying fines. No Republican would risk alienating his base by proposing a plan that could be perceived as amnesty. We need to ensure that the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers do not get placed in the same category as undocumented aliens.
As far as young undocumented aliens who were brought innocently to the U.S. by their parents, Rubio would allow them an easier path to citizenship. He was working on introducing a new version of the DREAM Act last year when President Obama used his executive power to cast a safety net for the Dreamers.
There have been other indicators that Republicans are moving to get a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed. In December 2012 former vice presidential candidate, Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan and Senator Rubio met with immigration advocate Illinois Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez. Gutierrez said that the pair wanted to "explore opportunities to work together."
Yesterday Ryan backed Rubio's immigration reform effort on his facebook page:
Senator Rubio is exactly right on the need to fix our broken immigration system. I support the principles he’s outlined: modernization of our immigration laws; stronger security to curb illegal immigration; and respect for the rule of law in addressing the complex challenge of the undocumented population. Our future depends on an immigration system that works.We cannot wait for Republicans and Democrats to kumbaya. We have seen how partisan gamesmanship has hurt our country over the last four years and there are not real signs of change.
With the CNMI Temporary Guest Worker Program ending up being more of a program of flaws and harm rather than a program of promise and help, the time to protect the status of the legal, longterm foreign workers is now. There is promise in Rep. Sablan's H.R. 1466 if his suggested 5th category would include legal, longterm foreign workers who do not have a U.S. citizen spouse or child. Or perhaps President Obama could enact an executive order to protect the CNMI's legal foreign workers just as he did for the Dreamers. At this point, I would support granting the legal, longterm CNMI aliens a temporary "safety" status until a decent bill granting them the well-deserved pathway to citizenship could pass.
We need to move. I will be contacting my senator's office and other policy makers this week.