Time for US immigration reform?
Undocumented migrants were arrested outside a Barack Obama fundraiser in Chicago on Wednesday as they aired their demands, calling for a halt to deportations.
The group tried to take their fight directly to the US president, calling for immediate action after he declined a similar request to halt deportations earlier this year, saying he is focused on “getting reform passed, and not easing up on enforcement”. However more than 400,000 people were deported from the US last year - a record high.
Next month, the US Senate is expected to begin debating a bill that is heavy on enforcement. The proposal was put together by a group of Republicans and Democrats.
It would put 11 million undocumented migrants on a path towards citizenship but only after border security provisions are met, including the deployment of the National Guard to build a border fence along the US-Mexico border as well as the funding of more than 3,500 customs agents.
Only after such security measures are enforced will undocumented workers have a chance to gain legal status in the US.
Nonetheless migrants have proven to be very supportive of the American economy.
A study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School measured immigrants’ contributions to the government-administered fund that covers hospital care for the elderly.
It found that immigrants generated surpluses ranging from $11bn to $17bn every year between 2002 and 2009. This led to an overall surplus of more than $115bn. During the same period, people born in the US incurred a deficit of $28bn.
Non-citizens contributed most of the surplus from immigrants due to the high proportion of working-age taxpayers in this group.
One group, strongly in favour of immigration reform, the ‘Nuns on the Bus’, have been outspoken on a range of social issues. On Wednesday, they embarked on a national tour to put forward the case for change. On Thursday, they held a rally near Capitol Hill in Washington.
“The current proposal that passed out in the Senate committee is a significant step forward, it deals with all of the key issues … I’ll tell you, we cannot afford to lose this opportunity,” Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of Network, the Catholic justice group that organised the tour, told Al Jazeera.
“We have got to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform passes, passes soon and well, the basic bill is fine, it will be a significant step forward … and later we can worry about tweaking some details, but we got to accomplish it now.
“Immigration absolutely is a moral issue, because we have a moral responsibility to care for all …. But it is also smart economics, because one out of four businesses in the US is started by an immigrant, and the last time we did immigration reform in 96 the economy grew, because immigrants where then able to fully participate, engage in our society, start businesses, employ people, pay taxes, and be a full participating part of our community,” she added.
So, will migrants’ voices ever be heard in the US? Can a reasonable immigration bill be passed in Congress? And can this be achieved under Obama’s administration?
To discuss this, Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, is joined by guests: Uriel Sanchez-Molina, one of the 12 immigrant activists arrested (and later released) on Wednesday; Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the director of the Social Policy and Politics Program at the Third Way think tank; and Sarahi Uribe, the national campaign coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.