Immigration reform not likely to move forward says California professor

04/04/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: immigration, immigration reform, Latin America, USF, Students for a Democratic Society, Raices en Tampa


Professor Masao Suzuki and Students for a Democratic Society's Veronica Juarez discuss immigration reform during a panel at USF.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Despite passing the Senate last year with bi-partisan support, comprehensive immigration reform hasn’t gone anywhere in the House. During a panel discussion at USF Wednesday night, pro-immigration leaders looked at where the bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship to more than 11 million undocumented immigrants is headed.

Masao Suzuki, a professor at Skyline College in San Jose said he doubts any immigration measure will be passed this year.

“There’s not evidence that the House Republicans are really willing to compromise. If you remember, they even went so far as to be willing to shut down the government rather than compromise on funding. There was supposed to be a House CIR bill which was widely thought to be worse than the Senate one, but even that was pulled because all the Republicans who were supposed to be working on it pulled out.”

Suzuki criticizes Republicans he calls anti-immigration for failing to offer adequate support for the comprehensive immigration reform, or CIR. But he himself opposes the bill.

“It would remove or end the diversity visa and this would eliminate about half of all the immigrants coming from Africa at this time.”

The Diversity Immigration Visa program is a lottery in which immigrants from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S. are awarded permanent residence. Another drawback -- the bill also includes increased funding for border control, or as Suzuki calls it, border militarization. With mid-term elections approaching and some pundits predicting enough Republican victories to maintain a majority in the House and possibly gain one in the Senate, Suzuki says an immigration compromise could come off the table all together. Instead, he supports a measure taken by the Obama administration in 2012 that offers a temporary reprieve for undocumented people.

“That basically allows undocumented who came here as children to get a stay of deportation for at least two years and in the meantime have the ability to work, go to school, get a driver’s license, etc.”

It’s called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Suzuki criticizes the immigration reform bill stalled in Washington for going too far to appease critics.

“Here it’s important not to have an attitude of well, we can never compromise, because I think that’s part of life. I think some compromises which fall short of what’s needed like the DACA program can be supported. It’s obviously a compromise; it’s not a permanent solution. People only have a two year stay of deportations, but it doesn’t actually make anyone else worse off.”

The conversation about immigration reform has taken off over the past several years as conservatives at both the state and national level have introduced bills taking aim at people without documentation.

“[Those] efforts sort of culminated in the passage of Senate Bill 1070 in Arizona a couple years ago which would have not only criminalize the undocumented, it would have empowered local police and Sheriff to stop people that they suspected of being undocumented and had state workers check people’s document – immigration status.”

Though that was eventually overturned by a court ruling, Suzuki said anti-immigration measures still continue.

“And then more recently, the House Republicans voted to defund the ICE Ombudsman’s office. The Ombudsman – which there may be something here on campus – basically it’s a office that’s supposed to deal with people’s complaints about how the system is being run. Basically, the Republicans say, ‘we don’t even want to hear anybody complaining if they were manhandled when they were arrested or anything like that, we don’t even want that.’”

Though Suzuki points mostly to Republicans as being behind anti-immigration efforts, he’s also quick to point out that increased border security started in 1996 under the Clinton administration. And Marisol Marquez, organizer with the group Raices En Tampa, agrees it’s not always a partisan issue – the Obama administration has deported more than 2 million people, earning the president the nickname Deporter-in-Chief.

“We can be critical of those who are in office and the truth is that, at this time, why we are pushing for this is because it’s not happening.”

The panel discussion also included an analysis of local immigration efforts. Veronica Juariez is an organizer with Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society. She said an in-state tuition bill that would allow children of undocumented immigrants who have attended a Florida high school to pay the same price for college as their documented peers. The measure has passed the Florida House and, just this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee. But it did so with some changes including requiring the student to have attended a Florida high school for a full four years. It would also not give the student documented resident status. That takes getting a driver’s license or even a legitimate job off the table.

“While we keep advocating for tuition equity, we want them to pass the bills, but remove the amendments.”

The in-state tuition effort has the support of many Republicans including House Speaker Will Weatherford. Some critics, though, worry the bill’s passage could hurt Governor Rick Scott’s re-election bid because he was originally in favor of tougher immigration laws but now he supports the current tuition equity bill.

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