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Messages from the immigration rally in Los Angeles: Schumer = SB1070?

There was no shortage of messages being trumpeted at Saturday’s immigration rally.
Most of them were broad in approach and relatively uncontroversial, such as “We are a nation of immigrants” and the ever popular “Legalize LA”.

Some, however, were more questionable or even misguided. These will the the subject of a series of articles designed to analyze, discuss, and ultimately judge the validity of these messages.

First is the sign pictured above. It equated the controversial and much-maligned (especially in the context of the march) Arizona SB1070 to the plan floated several months ago by New York Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer and Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsay Graham recently seen in the Washington Post. A side-by-side analysis of these two pieces should suffice to determine the soundness of the pictured protest sign.

Arizona’s SB1070, signed into law last week by Governor Brewer, is widely claimed (by opponents and supporters) to be the toughest immigration law in the country. Fundamentally, the law makes undocumented status a state crime, instead of just a federal crime, in Arizona. Depending on the point of view, it either forces or allows police to enforce immigration laws by verifying legal resident documentation. The law:

“Requires a reasonable attempt to be made to determine the immigration status of a person during any legitimate contact made by an official or agency of the state or a county, city, town or political subdivision (political subdivision) if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S. (Arizona Senate Fact Sheet, January 2010)

Furthermore, instead of simply being transferred to ICE as was the case under previous laws, persons charged under SB 1070 would fined and/or imprisoned before being transferred to federal authorities. Additionally, SB 1070 imposes penalties for the knowing hire or transport of undocumented immigrants.

Changes to the law approved Friday, according to a Tuscon NBC Affiliate, seek the diminish fears of racial profiling by disallowing the exclusive use of race as the determining factor in “reasonable suspicion”. However, the changes also stipulate that violations of local city ordinances can lead to questions about immigrant status. These would include noise complaints, littering, or loitering. Even the most basic and harmless of legal slights can be grounds for an investigation into immigration status.

In contrast, the Schumer-Graham plan is, for starters, not a law and not even under serious consideration yet. According to the column written by Schumer and Graham in the Washington Post, the plan would generally call for “fulfilling and strengthening” commitments on border security and implementing biometric social security cards to decrease fraud and facilitate checks by employees. So far, the goals may seem similar to those of SB 1070.

However, the Schumer-Graham plan also proposes ideas that opponents have compared to amnesty. It would create a path toward legal residence for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country. They would be required to perform community service as a result of entering the country illegally, and pay back taxes for the amount of time they have already spent in this country. They would then “go to the back of the line” and be required to learn English and pass a background check before becoming legal permanent residents. Presumably they would be on revocable worker’s visas until then.

While both SB 1070 and the Schumer-Graham plan propose to push illegal aliens out of the shadows of the economy and the law, the Arizona law would push them right into jail while the immigration reform plan would allow them to work toward citizenship. This may not be amnesty but it is also certainly not incarceration.

This is not to suggest that the Schumer-Graham plan is not without its faults. There may be some problems with the implementation of a biometric devices into all corners of the economy, especially those that most often attract undocumented workers. This, in turn, creates a problem in the incentive structure of the plan. Financially, it would be difficult to convince undocumented immigrants to come forward and pay back taxes when it is cheaper to not do so. Lawmakers may determine that the best solution is to increase the cost of noncompliance.

In order to solve these problems, some of the elements of the Schumer-Graham plan may eventually end up looking like the parts of SB 1070. The difference is that, while 1070 seeks to encourage “self-deportation”, the Schumer-Graham plan would instead pull undocumented immigrants to the path toward legalization.

Neither the provision nor the ultimate goals of SB 1070 can really be compared accurately to those of the Schumer-Graham plan. They are different in size, scope, reach, and expected results. Furthermore, the Schumer-Graham position is currently the most pragmatic and viable option for effective immigration reform. Until recently, even Republican leader John McCain had supported its ideas. To stir up fear and undermine its support can actually end up setting back the cause of immigration reform. These signs are not only misguided, they can be counterproductive.

This brings us to the next message to be put under the microscope in the forthcoming articles: the call for immediate legalization of all the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the nation.

Published originally in the Examiner.

Uri Lerner
Uri Lerner
Uri Lerner has a Master Degree in Political Science from American University in Washington and is a graduate of UC San Diego with a bachelor's in political science. He is a Senior Research Associate at Hanover Research Council in Washington, D.C.

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