Immigrant rights activist Perla Flores crossed the border unchecked with her parents when she was 8 years old and lived undocumented for years. In 2010, she got her green card, 15 years after first applying for it. She said the immigration process was emotionally difficult and she would never want to go through it again.
“It’s difficult for people to immigrate; they don’t do it by choice,” the SF State alumna said. “They do it for economic survival.”
Flores said that undocumented people living in the U.S. need a clear-cut path to citizenship but adds that “any new immigration reform is very likely to still leave people in the cracks.”
Historically, immigration reform has been an emotional, politically charged topic with no clear consensus across party lines.
When a bipartisan group of senators announced framework for overhauling the current immigration system, a plan that got the president’s endorsement, some immigrant rights activists saw it more as a political victory than a realistic pathway for citizenship.
Framework for immigration system
- Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently
living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and
tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required
- Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of
characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen
- Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft
and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers
- Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s
workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
This plan aims to address the estimated 11.5 million undocumented people living in the United States, by opening a pathway to citizenship that would include paying a fine and back taxes, learning English and getting in line behind those who’ve already petitioned for citizenship legally.
Anoop Prasad, immigration rights attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, called it disingenuous. He added that the pathway to citizenship for countries sending high volumes of immigrants — Philippines, Mexico and China — could have wait times of 30 years.
Prasad said he’s seen petitions for citizenship originate in 1989 and not get a green card until now. At that point, it takes another five years before citizenship. For an undocumented immigrant, they would have to wait a minimum of 29 years.
In what appears to be a bipartisan compromise, the pathway to citizenship would be contingent on securing the southern border and developing a tracking system to know if immigrants have left when their visas expire.
In the political sphere, a bipartisan agreement for comprehensive immigration reform is a success in itself. Republicans who have supported strict laws and tough enforcement on undocumented immigrants, squashed a similar proposal in 2006 and 2010. That proposal would have gave amnesty to those who crossed the borders illegally. Republicans changed their tune after Obama was re-elected with 71 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Political science major, Alan Diaz-Ramirez, 21, wasn’t one of the Latinos who voted for Obama. He voted for the Green Party because of the 1.3 million deportations that occurred since 2009 under the Obama administration.
“Obama promised us Latinos that in his first year he would pass comprehensive immigration reform but failed to do so, he failed in four years,” Diaz-Ramirez said. “He devastated the Latino community.”
On Jan. 28, eight senators — four Republicans and four Democrats — held a national press conference where they outlined the legislative principles for comprehensive immigration reform. A day later, the president endorsed the reform, but threatened to introduce his immigration policy if the senators didn’t rush the bill through Congress by summer.
Under the new proposal, undocumented people who are eligible for the DREAM Act will be fast tracked through the citizenship process. The DREAM Act allows conditional residency for undocumented minors who meet special educational and residential requirements.
Prasad estimates there are 1.7 million DREAMers, and one-to-two million agriculture workers who are eligible for fast track out of more than an 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“The vast majority of undocumented people would have to wait in limbo for the better part of three decades,” Prasad said.
“Antoinette” is a 23-year-old undocumented SF State student. She is the chapter leader of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education on campus. Although she is open about her immigration status with family and friends, she asked to be identified by a pseudonym because she feared negative judgment from her peers.
The new reform would speed up her citizenship process because she is a DREAMer, but she doesn’t support it. For “Antoinette,” the increased militarization of the border is a deal breaker.
“Continued militarization of the border will hurt more people and my ethics don’t align with that,” she said, adding that reform should include a clear cut pathway with more available visas, fewer barriers and access to legal resources.
Diaz-Ramirez, whose parents both lived undocumented for two decades before getting their green cards, said he supports immigration reform and that this reform is a step in the right direction, but falls short.
“Undocumented people have suffered long enough, living in fear, to make them pay fines and back taxes, to me, is not right,” he said.
The undocumented Latino community is desperate for relief and he fears the government is playing on those fears.
“I don’t understand what the U.S is trying to achieve,” Diaz-Ramirez, referring to increased border security, said. “Why keep people out? They are innocent people who come here to provide for their families.”
Flores thinks that the U.S. should look at its foreign relations policy because increased enforcement on the borders will not stop people from migrating if those countries have no jobs. People come here for the jobs, she added. Flores works at the Women’s Center on campus and has a master’s in public health.
“I thought of myself as an invisible person for a long time,” Flores said. “It was very emotionally difficult. I don’t think the fear will ever entirely go away.”