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Immigration Reform Must Consider Why People Migrate in the First Place

"Unless there's an alternative to the neoliberal economic order, in 20 years we'll have a similar debate about what to do with undocumented people that will be here because of the same neoliberal policies."

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We're going to see the same type of stuff happen with this RPI status. We're going to see a lot of folks not qualify for RPI status. And again, that's problematic, because there's still going to be a large sector that's going to be outside of this RPI status and this so-called path to citizenship. In fact, I'm really doubtful that the RPI status will lead to citizenship as long as it's linked to border security.

NOOR: So, Professor Gonzales, you've mentioned how many young people will not be included in this bill, will not benefit from it, yet it's been the work of DREAM activists and another young activists that have--many have argued have led to the point where this bill is now being pushed forward in Congress.

GONZALES: Absolutely. Let's get one thing straight. If it wasn't for the immigrant rights social movement that developed over the last ten years, we wouldn't even have this bill. As problematic as this bill is, we would not have this bill.

To understand the contemporary immigrant rights movement, we have to go to 2005, when the 109th Congress proposed HR 4437, the Sensenbrenner bill. The Sensenbrenner bill was going to turn 11 million people into felons, and it was going to--it was basically going to be the worst immigration reform bill proposed in 100 years. And HR 4437 passed in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats were on the defensive trying to defeat HR 4437.

What happened in January and February 2006: the immigrant rights movement got organized, and in ways that it hadn't been organized before. Previous to 2006, the immigrant rights movement was basically comprised of select nonprofits and unions, and after 2006, the immigrant rights movement gets popularized, and it becomes a multisector movement, where it's not just major nonprofits located in Washington, D.C., and unions; it's also small church groups, it's also small youth organizations, student organizations, hometown associations, independent activists, day laborers. These groups come together in early 2006, actually, in Riverside, California, in February--I think it was February 11, 2006. These groups come together in Riverside California at a national conference, and they plan a series of mass mobilizations to defeat HR 4437. They defeated HR 4437, folks. If it wasn't for the immigrant rights movement, HR 4437 would have moved forward, and it probably would have passed in the House because the Democrats didn't have the audacity to really stand up against this bill. In fact, it was during the mass mobilizations of 2006 that the Senate got the courage to propose an alternative bill that would actually cancel out with HR 4437.

But the immigrant rights movement was demanding full legalization for the--back then it was 12 million, 'cause they departed actually--they've deported at least 2 million people since 2006. I would actually say it's probably about 3 million. In 2006, we had 12 million people here. Now they're saying that there's 11 million undocumented people. Okay? The demand 2006 was the full and immediate legalization of the undocumented. The demand in 2006, at least in Los Angeles, where I was active in studying the immigrant rights movement, immigrant rights activists were saying, we want to see an end to border militarization, we want to see an end to police and immigration authorities collaborating in our county jails and in our prisons. The immigrant rights movement in 2006 had much more radical demands.

Now our demands have been watered down. And the watering down of these demands has resulted in something like this bill that we have in the Senate today, S 744, which, although it would give contemporary legal relief in the long run, it's not going to dismantle the structures of state violence that have resulted in the deportation of at least 2 million people.

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