By Nick Winnie
In the weeks following President Bush’s approval of a highly contested immigration bill, some political analysts are doubting the legislation’s ability to stem the tide of undocumented immigration from Mexico.
President Bush approved an immigration bill providing for the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, Oct. 26.
The legislation, signed into law less than two weeks before midterm elections, focuses almost entirely on border security, increasing technology and the number of barriers and checkpoints along the border aimed at deterring the flow of undocumented immigrants. The legislation does not include provisions for immigrants’ eventual attainment of citizenship status in the United States.
Paul Ortiz, professor of community studies and immigrants’ rights activist, questioned the effectiveness of this law."The legislation will have no effect on the number of people coming here," Ortiz said.
Dana Frank, UC Santa Cruz professor of history and labor activist, agreed with Ortiz’s assessment of the wall’s inability to deter people from entering the country.
"People who can either starve to death or move here will find a way to get across the border," Frank said. "The goal is to make the border more militarized and dangerous; to treat human migration as a military question."
The union representing border patrol agents is also in this group of detractors. According to CNN.com, the group responsible for enforcing border security is questioning the efficacy of constructing 700 miles of easily penetrable fencing along a 2,000-mile border.
Other critical voices within the legislation debate are coming from within the GOP.
"Building a fence is like putting a band-aid on a shark bite," UCSC Republicans President Kelly Hayes said via email. "A more comprehensive solution is needed."
The substance of the bill is very different than what President Bush had originally envisioned- a much broader reformulation of immigrant law. The bill was approved by the Senate last spring, but was kept from passage by Republicans in the House. The president’s contentious plan centered on a "guest worker" program for undocumented immigrants, which would have allowed legal employment to undocumented immigrants. Bush’s proposal also included the prospect of granting eventual citizenship to the estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
According to Hayes, this piece of Bush’s proposal, left out from the legislation, addresses the most important issue surrounding immigration. "We need to find a way to account for everyone here that we do not know about," she said.
Hayes says that greater accountability in the form of increased documentation for immigrants, with the possibility of attaining citizenship, would benefit both sides. She argued that it is unfair to U.S. citizens if they were to allow this large group of people to receive the benefits of our society while they do not financially contribute to the country as other citizens do. On the other hand, she acknowledged that it is unfair to undocumented immigrants that they must receive significantly lower wages due to their lack of citizenship.
Both Frank and Ruiz emphasized the notion that President Bush’s stalled proposal underscores the importance of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. economy.
"The U.S. economy would collapse without them," Ruiz said. He also stated that the same effect would visit the local Santa Cruz economy if this undocumented labor force was suddenly removed.
Frank echoed those sentiments.
"This country runs on immigrant labor, and we should value their work and what they bring to our culture," Frank said.
According to both professors, the new legislation will not stop the entrance of undocumented immigrants, but will undoubtedly have the effect of keeping greater numbers of undocumented immigrants from demanding rights in the workplace as well as medical benefits.
The total cost of the legislation is not currently known. The project’s down payment comes in the form of $1.2 billion from a Homeland Security spending measure signed by Bush earlier this month.
Along with the strain put on American taxpayers due to the legislation, there is an additional strain on U.S.- Mexico relations. Vicente Fox, the outgoing Mexican President who had strongly favored a new guest worker program and citizenship for undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S., recently called the 700-mile fence "shameful" and compared it to the Berlin Wall.