Immigration ‘Plan B’ Focuses on White House

Carlos Guzman of Albany, Ga., holds a sign during a rally in front of the White House in in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in favor of immigration reform. The demonstrators urged President Obama to use executive authority to expand the policy that allowed hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain. 
National Journal
Fawn Johnson
Aug. 8, 2013, 2 a.m.

Im­mig­ra­tion-re­form act­iv­ists aren’t sup­posed to talk pub­licly about a Plan B. They can’t, or won’t, an­swer ques­tions from the me­dia about what they will do if no bill passes this year to leg­al­ize the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion. But as Au­gust wears on and there is no clear sense of what the House will do on im­mig­ra­tion, some are start­ing to speak out.

“There are groups that are for im­mig­ra­tion re­form no mat­ter what. Then there are groups like us, grass­roots…. We have the oth­er track,” said Ad­elina Nich­olls, the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Geor­gia Latino Al­li­ance for Hu­man Rights. “The oth­er track is Barack Obama.”

The idea be­hind the “oth­er track” is to freeze the cur­rent un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion in place through an ad­min­is­trat­ive or­der, give them work per­mits, and hope for a bet­ter deal un­der the next pres­id­ent, with the hope that he or she is a Demo­crat. It’s a sig­ni­fic­ant gamble, but some ad­voc­ates — par­tic­u­larly those out­side of the Wash­ing­ton le­gis­lat­ive bar­ter­ing sys­tem — ar­gue that it’s bet­ter than what they stand to see un­der the le­gis­la­tion be­ing dis­cussed now.

Many ad­voc­ates have been dis­cuss­ing Plan B quietly for months, but they have kept a dis­cip­lined pub­lic mes­sage solely fo­cused on sup­port­ing a com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion bill in Con­gress. Even if they are un­com­fort­able with some of the bill’s pro­vi­sions (like, say, ex­clud­ing any­one who has been con­victed of petty theft from leg­al­iz­a­tion), ad­voc­ates don’t want to ap­pear frac­tured be­fore a group of politi­cians who are wary about vot­ing for any­thing that gives un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants leg­al status. As soon as re­luct­ant law­makers smell dis­sen­sion in the ranks, they flee.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is dif­fer­ent. It has already flexed its muscle and shown that it is will­ing to ex­ert au­thor­ity to stop the de­port­a­tion of hun­dreds of thou­sands of un­doc­u­mented youth through its de­ferred-ac­tion pro­gram an­nounced last year. The im­mig­rant com­munity ar­gues that there is no reas­on that this ad­min­is­trat­ive au­thor­ity can­not ex­pand fur­ther to in­clude oth­er “low pri­or­ity” can­did­ates for de­port­a­tion — i.e., par­ents of “Dream­ers” or par­ents of chil­dren who are cit­izens be­cause they were born here, people who are em­ployed, people who are care­givers, and so on.

The same ad­voc­ates who now are push­ing Con­gress for an im­mig­ra­tion over­haul were push­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion then for the de­ferred ac­tion pro­gram for un­doc­u­mented youths who were brought to the coun­try as chil­dren. Once it fi­nally happened, it worked like a charm. To date, the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment has ap­proved some 365,000 ap­plic­a­tions.

The same leg­al reas­on­ing for not seek­ing de­port­a­tion for un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants — there is no safety-re­lated reas­on to do so — ap­plies to oth­er non­crim­in­al ali­ens, im­mig­ra­tion ana­lysts ar­gue. Polit­ic­ally, all Pres­id­ent Obama needs is proof that Con­gress can’t get the job done. That could hap­pen in a mat­ter of months with the Re­pub­lic­an-led House still un­sure of how it will deal with the un­doc­u­mented pop­u­la­tion. (To date, no le­gis­la­tion has sur­faced in the House, al­though there is talk of a lim­ited leg­al­iz­a­tion pro­gram for un­doc­u­mented chil­dren.)

Mean­while, the im­mig­rant-ad­vocacy com­munity has a host of com­plaints about the Sen­ate bill that passed in June, which would provide a tangled, treach­er­ous 13-year path to cit­izen­ship for im­mig­rants here il­leg­ally. It would also double the bor­der patrol and re­quire all em­ploy­ers to elec­tron­ic­ally check that their work­ers have pa­pers.

Act­iv­ists fear the Sen­ate bill would mil­it­ar­ize the bor­der such that no one could live there without con­stantly be­ing stopped and asked for a pass­port. They fear that it will drive un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants who don’t qual­i­fy for leg­al­iz­a­tion fur­ther un­der­ground. They have a hard time say­ing that they en­thu­si­ast­ic­ally sup­port it.

“We tent­at­ively sup­port it, but our con­cern is that the bill is only go­ing to get worse. We’re not com­mit­ted to con­tin­ue to sup­port it,” said Kate Woomer-De­ters, a staff at­tor­ney at the Im­mig­rant Rights Pro­ject for the North Car­o­lina Justice Cen­ter.

“It’s di­vis­ive to the com­munity, kind of pit­ting needs against each oth­er. I can’t say we have a real po­s­i­tion on this,” said Juan­ita Mo­lina, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Hu­mane Bor­ders, a group that has tracked deaths along the Ari­zona bor­der with Mex­ico for 12 years. “Some people feel like we need to cut our losses, leg­al­ize as many people as we can.”

Oth­ers in the Mo­lina’s group “feel very strongly” that the le­gis­la­tion would be harm­ful be­cause it would make con­di­tions so much more dif­fi­cult along the bor­der. “These people find people dead in the desert,” she said.

Nich­olls, of the Geor­gia Latino Al­li­ance, can’t even say she sup­ports the bill. “What we want is to stop the un­ne­ces­sary ex­pan­sion of mil­it­ary-style [en­force­ment],” she said. “We do not be­lieve that the bor­der is go­ing to be sealed. It is an im­possible dream.”

Nich­olls, Mo­lina, and Woomer-De­ters are all in Wash­ing­ton this week as part of a plan­ning ses­sion with a broad­er act­iv­ist co­ali­tion called CAM­BIO, which fo­cuses on the civil- and hu­man-rights is­sues in­volved in im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Most act­iv­ists for im­mig­ra­tion re­form have been so wrapped up in get­ting le­gis­la­tion through the Sen­ate that they haven’t had time to look up and see what’s down the road. They are do­ing so now. “We’re say­ing, ‘What if? What are the next steps? If we come to a cross­roads, what are the next strategies, the next talk­ing points?’ ” said Liz­ette Escobedo, com­mu­nic­a­tions and de­vel­op­ment dir­ect­or for the Latino group Mi Fa­mil­ia Vota. “Our groups on the ground are see­ing this as a new chal­lenge. And when you get a new chal­lenge, you just need to turn up the heat.”

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