Making Sense of the Immigration Debate - What's All the Ruckus About?

“Dear President Bush, I, Saul Arellano, age 7, an American Citizen, do now formally request a meeting with you. I request that you grant safe passage for my mother, Elvira Arellano, so that she can be with me at this meeting and can return safely to our church. I request also that our pastor, Rev Walter Coleman and his wife, Emma Lozano, and my congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Bobby Rush, and Rafael Pulido and Abel Uribe and my friend Daysha DelValle also be present at this meeting.

I want to tell you why I believe my mother should be allowed to stay with me in my country. I want to tell you also that there are more than 3 million children like me. We are U.S. Citizens but the government is taking away our mothers and fathers.”
-Saul Arellano Citizen

That was the letter delivered by Saul Arellano to President Bush asking him to intervene and stop the eminent deportation of his mother to Mexico. Elvira Arellano, an employee at O’Hare, was due for deportation August 15 having been found to be working under a false social security number. Desperate for her son Saul, a U.S. citizen, to retain his rights to live in America and to stay in the country with him, the mother and son took refuge in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park. They've been there almost six months now. The situation is not a new one. Elvira’s issues with immigration have been ongoing since 2002. Her efforts have included participating in lobbying, organizing people to go to DC and she even joined the Family Unity Campaign in May when she went on a liquids only, hunger strike with others for 23 days. “I’ve been actively involved and am committed to it for as long as it takes for some sort of legalization to take place,” she said commenting on her seeking refuge at Church, which she hasn’t been able to leave, since August. “I understand what a lengthy process it is." Elvira continues to receive visitors on a daily basis, both those seeking inspiration and those offering encouragement.
Last month, Saul and Emma Lozano, the executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras, attended the National Latino Congress in Los Angeles , to garner legal support and media attention. We spoke with Elvira Arellano to see how they were holding up. ”It’s a difficult for him, being a child,” said Elvira, “but he feels strongly about doing this and is more than willing to do it, because it could he help him have his mother stay with him in the country. He’s never been to Mexico and doesn’t know that country. Moving would mean uprooting him from everything he considers home.”

If President Bush doesn’t meet with Saul and others in the group within two weeks, as requested in his letter, the plan is to have children, who have at least one undocumented parent, converge on the Capital. “An estimate of about 4 million kids who are citizens would come. We want to show how important legalization is to keeping families together. Saul is not the only child affected and any legislation passed needs to be aware of that,” said Elvira.

Why don’t immigrants come legally in the first place? According to Chicago based Illinois Coaltion of Immigrant and Refugees Rights ( ICIRR), "Immigrants do want to come legally. But with legal channels so divorced from the demands of our labor market, illegal immigration is inevitable. For example, the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that our economy requires some 485,000 full-time, year-round new immigrant workers each year. But current immigration laws provide just 5,000 visas for such workers annually. No wonder the system is so broken: the market demands almost 500,000 workers a year, and federal law offers 5,000! Meanwhile, our family immigration system is so inflexible that people often wait decades to reunite with loved ones. Because it’s a matter of feeding or being with their families, such narrow legal channels lead people to seek entry by whatever means necessary. If we create broader legal channels for these immigrants, most immigration will happen in a safe, legal, and orderly way."

Does that mean ICIRR supports illegal immigration? "We do not support illegal migration. We support more opportunities for people to come and live here legally. Our country has a demand for workers, and a willing supply from south of the border, but insufficient visas to facilitate their legal entry. We have close family members who face interminable separations because of an outmoded immigration system. We need to fix these mismatches. This, combined with tough enforcement, will go a long way towards solving the problem of illegal immigration," says a spokesperson.

According to ICIRR, "Our solution is not more immigration. It is more legal immigration. Our reforms take a migration flow that is currently happening under the radar screen and funnel it through the legal system. Done right, it doesn’t add a single new person to the equation. It replaces the illegal flow with a legal, orderly flow. It is just regulating what is already happening in a way that benefits both Americans already here and immigrants coming to build new lives. And let there be no doubt, we stand for caps, limits, controls, and screening. The status quo leads to uncontrolled, unlimited, and unscreened immigration. The overhaul we support will make the new limits honest, enforceable, and realistic. Plus, more workers in our economy will be covered by U.S. labor laws."

In a nutshell, "the current broken status quo rewards illegal behavior. After all employers seek out vulnerable workers, smugglers ferry workers to jobs across the border, and practically, immigrants seeking to work and hoping to join loved ones in the U.S. can only get in if they enter illegally." George Bush and Co.'s blind disregard towards fixing the immigration system and instead building more fences was exactly the kind of approach that lost Congress to the Democrats recently.

But its not just in the USA that Mexican groups are lobbying for change. Groups such as the Mexican Federation have run a voter registration campaign for all those who are still entitled to vote in Mexico, even as they live here. This was intended to mobilize support for an incumbent party back home. That the race was close was indicative of Mexicans demanding a government that would listen to them and create better opportunities for all ages, in Mexico. “Mexico has a history of suppressing its people’s voices and we wanted change,” said Elvira. But in July, the incumbents won the elections which according to Elvira only points to the corruption in the system, there. “People said it was the challengers who won, but the government in power declared itself the winner,” she explains. September 15 was Mexico’s Independence Day but as is obvious, it was only about independence for a few.