Activists, Opponents Clash at Immigration Rally

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Activists, Opponents Clash at Immigration Rally

Magazine article

By: Anonymous

Date: May 2, 2005

Source: Boston Globe

About the Author: This news article was written by an unidentified staff writer for the Boston Globe, a daily newspaper with a wide circulation in the Boston, Massachusetts and the greater New England region. Founded in 1872 as a private company, in 1973 it became a public company, which in 1993 merged with the New York Times Company.

INTRODUCTION

The immigrants' rights rally held in Boston in May 2005 reflected the increasing prominence in the mid 2000s of the issue of undocumented migration in the attention of both politicians and the general public. A conservative estimate of the number of undocumented migrants living in the United States, based on 2002 census data, is 9.3 million, but given the clandestine nature of undocumented immigration, the true figure may be much higher than this.

There has been undocumented migration to the United States ever since the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act was passed in 1924, which imposed legislation restrictions on immigration to the United States for the first time by setting quotas on numbers of immigrants of different nationalities and races. The Act also authorized the deportation of anyone found to be entering the United States without valid immigration documents and made undocumented migration a criminal offence. With the passing of this Act, the category of undocumented migrants was first created, and the status of many existing immigrants became illegal.

Although the United States has always attracted significant numbers of undocumented migrants, particularly from Mexico, it is only since the late twentieth century that the problem has risen so high on the political agenda. The factors contributing to this have been a worldwide increase in undocumented migration, with a resulting media focus on the topic, as well as publicity about increasing numbers of deaths among Mexican immigrants who perish in the harsh environment of the border region while trying to avoid the U.S. Border Control.

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SIGNIFICANCE

On December 16, 2005, the House of Representatives passed the H.R. 4437 Immigration Rights Bill, which proposed introducing stiff penalties for undocumented migrants and anyone assisting them to enter the United States and making undocumented migration a felony. The proposed reforms in this bill also included fencing some 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border to try to reduce the number of illegal border crossings.

On May 25, 2006, the Senate passed an alternative bill, S. 2611, entitled the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act," based on the reforms proposed by President George W. Bush in January 2004. A major underlying theme of the Bush proposals was the need to respect family values by preventing families being separated by immigration law and by introducing policies that would help prevent the problem of migrants risking their lives to enter the United States. They also acknowledged the need for immigrants to fill jobs that Americans were not prepared to do. Bush proposed a guest worker program under which migrant applicants would be matched with U.S. employers that had unfilled vacancies. If successful in securing a job, the migrant would receive a three-year temporary residence permit, renewable once, after which they could apply for permanent residence through normal procedures. The scheme would be open to undocumented migrants already in the United States as well as those applying from overseas.

These bills sparked a wave of further demonstrations on the part of immigrant support groups across the nation, highlighting the important role that immigrants have played in the American economy, and the poor wages and conditions of employment that many endure. Pro-immigrant groups were fiercely opposed to the House of Representatives bill, which would treat undocumented migrants as felons, and argued that the Senate bill did not go far enough, as it offered no security or long-term hope to immigrants who might be subject to removal when their temporary permits expired.

Anti-immigration groups also came out in protest, arguing that undocumented immigrants steal the jobs of Americans and represent a financial burden on the economy in terms of health provision, education and other services. These groups were strongly opposed to the Senate bill which they viewed as an amnesty under which millions of undocumented immigrants and their children could receive permanent residence in the United States.

Mixed views were also put forward regarding the likely impact of the Senate proposals on actual levels of undocumented immigration to the United States, with some arguing that they would have little or no effect, unless the borders were also secured more effectively. Others put forward the view that the reforms would be effective in reducing undocumented immigration, citing the example of the "bracero" seasonal worker program of the 1940s–1960s which had reportedly reduced the numbers of undocumented migrants from Mexico during its years of operation.

A demonstration and economic shutdown occurred by immigrant support groups nationwide on May 1, 2006, with undocumented immigrants being asked not to go to work or school on that day, in order to highlight to the public the effects of their absence. Although the overall number of demonstrators was smaller than predicted, there were rallies in most major cities of the United States in which immigrants and their supporters protested against the H.R. 4437 reforms. Some immigrant groups, however, came out in opposition to the event, arguing that it would damage the image of immigrants and that it would be more effective to try to fight the legislation through established political mechanisms.

By June 2006, there had been little progress in achieving agreement on U.S. immigration reform. Any immigration bill must receive the support of both houses of Congress to become law, and this is not expected to be achieved in the near future. In the meantime, the issue of undocumented immigration continues to threaten social stability in many cities of the United States, particularly those with large and visible immigrant populations.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Ngai, Mai. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton University Press, 2004.

Powers, Mary G and Macisco, John J. Jr. and Center for Migration Studies. The Immigration Experience in the United States: Policy Implications. Center for Migration Studies, 1994.

Periodicals

Espenshade, Thomas, J. "Unauthorized Immigration to the United States." Annual Review of Sociology. 21, 1995.

Web sites

Migration Policy Institute. "US in Focus.". <http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/> (accessed June 1, 2006).

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Activists, Opponents Clash at Immigration Rally

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