The defeat of the immigration bill in the United States Senate Thursday, June 28th, will have ramifications nationally, as well as regionally and locally, according to local leaders interviewed by The Argonaut in the aftermath of the legislation’s downfall.
Continued lower wages, families being pulled apart and a shadow society of people who remain unable to fully participate in paying taxes, voting and becoming homeowners are examples that they cite.
“This was a disappointment,” Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said. “There are many undocumented workers in our district in Del Rey and Mar Vista, and they deserve dignity, opportunity and a path to citizenship.”
“We’re very disappointed that our leaders that we elected could not pull this together,” said Mary GutiÈrrez, communications director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, who was in Washington during the immigration debate. “This not only affects undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles and across the nation, but also native-born workers will be impacted by the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
“This may not be the end of this bill,” said Rosemary Esparza, an immigration attorney who practices in Venice and Orange County.
Twenty-one years ago, President Ronald Reagan signed an amnesty law, the Immigration and Control Act of 1986, which did not pass on its initial journey through the Senate. “It was resurrected a few months later,” Esparza recalled. “This could conceivably happen with the latest bill.”
There are an estimated 12 million people who have immigrated into the United States illegally, with a majority concentrated in California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico.
GutiÈrrez agreed that there is still hope that immigration reform can be revived. “The (House of Representatives) still has a chance to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “Otherwise, given the political climate and the (2008) presidential election, we may not see legislation for years.”
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco has said that she will not pursue an immigration bill this year until the Senate passes one, making the possibility of meaningful reform a difficult option.
Locally, Del Rey homeowners and businesses have complained about immigrant day laborers who congregate near the intersections of Culver Boulevard and Centinela Avenue waiting for work.
“The fact is, they’re here and they’re not going away,” said Mark Reddick, president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council.
The complaints have largely related to drinking and loitering, and police have begun recently to issue citations to those are violating the law.
Reddick said that there are plans under way to discuss an alternative site for the job seekers and his organization plans to discuss the topic at its monthly meeting in August.
There were several reasons why the bill failed to pass, according to Esparza.
“There was too much in it that was harmful to immigrants,” the attorney says. In Esparza’s opinion, the length of the bill made it cumbersome and hard to understand, even for the legislators.
“As an immigration attorney, I believe that something that would have been about 100 pages would have been a lot easier to work with, and a lot easier to understand,” Esparza contends.
The proposed legislation was over 700 pages.
Reddick feels that Senate legislation ignored some key factors that the states, especially California, are facing right now.
“That bill did not address some central issues that would have long-term impacts on states that share a border with Mexico,” the neighborhood council president said. Jobs and housing are two areas that the legislation did not address, Reddick says, along with the possibility for a dramatic rise in the nation’s population, especially in Los Angeles.
“Where are they going to work, and where are they going to live?” he asked. “[The Senate bill] basically would have almost doubled the population in the next 20 years, and Los Angeles will probably be one of the areas that is hit the hardest.”
Both GutiÈrrez and Esparza feel that the failure to pass what many politicians and immigration advocates believe was a critical piece of legislation will continue to have a punitive effect on the relatives of immigrants who cross the border seeking work.
Because the bill was defeated, “a backlog of immigrating family members and spouses will keep families apart,” said Esparza. “Why not provide another 60,000 to 65,000 extra visas to ease the backlog that we currently have?”
“Right now, we see how the lack of progress on this issue is tearing families apart,” GutiÈrrez added. “Undocumented workers come here to work, they’re here and they’re not going anywhere.”
While she was in Washington, she had an opportunity to view the national debate on immigration up close and personal.
“My contacts in Washington told me that the Republicans were the group that was mostly holding back the bill,” she reported, although there were also some Democrats who opposed the proposed legislation.
Rosendahl said that many of his constituents have mixed feelings on the topic of immigration.
“What’s interesting is, there are legal, native-born residents in our communities who are constituents who have relatives who are trying to become citizens,” the councilman pointed out.
Although Esparza believes that a large part of the immigration debate is grounded in economics, she feels that politics did play a factor in the bill’s defeat.
“Forty percent of illegal immigrants are people who came here legally and overstayed their visas,” she noted. “For them and for all undocumented workers, wouldn’t it be better for them to be fingerprinted and have identification so that we know where they are, instead of being underground?”
“I understand that people are looking for better lives [when they cross the border], but this bill didn’t do anything to address the important [problem] that we’re facing,” Reddick reiterated.
“Sooner or later, we are going to have to look at the important issues of immigration of the future, like a visa program with more visas to fulfill employer needs,” said GutiÈrrez. “We cannot tiptoe around this any longer.”
Both California senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported the bill.