Olga Miranda, secretary treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council and president of SEIU Local 87, did not mince words when sharing her initial reaction to the proposed federal immigration reform bill, which was unveiled April 16 by a bipartisan group of senators.
“If it was myself and our members at the bargaining table, we would walk away,” Miranda said. “This proposal is nothing more than an offense to the community.”
Miranda was speaking at an April 17 press conference held by the San Francisco Bay Coalition for Immigrant Justice, staged at the Asian Law Caucus’ San Francisco headquarters. While many speakers said they welcomed the immigration reform bill as an important “starting point,” all were clear that they saw serious flaws in the proposal and planned to spend the next several months pushing for improvements.
“We applaud the inclusion of a path to citizenship in the bipartisan legislation for millions of undocumented people currently living as second class citizens,” said Francisco Ugarte, senior immigration attorney at Dolores Street Community Services. “However, there are problems with the bill, which creates long waiting periods to adjust, excessive fines and unclear language and employment requirements.”
In a statement, coalition members described the bill’s proposed path to citizenship as “long and onerous” due to provisions such as a decade-long wait for a green card, and ineligibility for any undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. after 2011.
Concerns were raised that families would continue to be separated, a frequent consequence of deportation. “The bill, as it is, does not put an end to the deportations,” said Cinthya Muñoz of Causa Justa / Just Cause. “In California, close to 94,000 people were deported” last year, she added. “As Californians, our representatives need to stand strong to call for an end to deportations before negotiations continue.”
Miranda was critical of a proposal to require the use of the federal E-Verify system. “Forcing employers to check all workers’ immigration status against flawed databases like E-Verify reduces the power of all workers,” she said. “And it would threaten the jobs and privacy of many citizens and work-authorized immigrants.”
Anoop Prasad of the Asian Law Caucus criticized proposed changes to the existing process for legal, family-based immigration, saying the elimination of visas for entire groups of family members would particularly impact Asian communities, such as those residing in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The overwhelming majority of Chinatown residents came to the U.S. as sons and daughters or siblings of employment-based immigrants, he explained, but under the proposed rules, meeting the qualifications for a visa would be more difficult due to a the elimination of certain family immigration categories.
Instead of placing emphasis on the presence of a family member in the U.S., a proposed “merit based" visa would be scored on factors like higher education, English proficiency, and employment, Prasad added. But activists also raised concerns that requirements for English language proficiency would inevitably exclude many monolingual immigrants.
Amos Lim, representing Out 4 Immigration, said LGBT couples would face particular challenges too, because no specific language was included to allow same-sex partners the same immigration privileges as heterosexual married couples. “Immigration law in this country has always been about excluding people,” Lim told the Guardian. “We need to make sure that we are included.”
The coalition is planning a May 1 march and rally in San Francisco to call for improvements to the immigration reform bill. It will begin at 24th and Mission at 3pm and proceed to Civic Center for a 5pm rally.