Time to Step Up to the Plate

Newsweek International, February 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Time to Step Up to the Plate


Byline: Jorge G. Castaneda (Castaneda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, is now Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American Studies at New York University)

Later this month the U.S. Senate is likely to begin one of its most frustrating and recurrent exercises--and at the same time one of its most important deliberations, at least for nations in the Western Hemisphere. The Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees are about to take up the crucial, excruciating issue of immigration, long after they should have, but better late than never.

The Senate will debate three initiatives of a very different nature. First up is the so-called Sensenbrenner bill, already passed by the House of Representatives. Among other hateful features, the legislation seeks to build more than 1,000 kilometers of fences and walls along the U.S.-Mexican border, makes unauthorized entry into the United States a felony and penalizes anyone aiding or abetting illegal immigrants. Senators will also discuss the Kyl-Cornyn Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act, which seeks to strengthen border security and establish a temporary-worker program that does not include any path to U.S. residency or citizenship. The bill would, in other words, keep in the shadows somewhere near 10 million unauthorized Latin American immigrants in the United States.

Last, the Senate will consider a bill presented last year by Sens. Edward Kennedy and John McCain which includes a guest-worker program, strengthens border security and calls for Mexican cooperation. Most important, the bill contemplates different mechanisms that would allow Latin Americans currently in the United States without papers to enter the temporary-worker program and eventually legalize their status without having to go home first. This is what's been called an earned-amnesty provision: by providing proof of paying taxes, having no criminal record and incurring fines and fees totaling approximately $2,000, unauthorized aliens could regularize their status after six years.

These are all essential matters for millions of Latin Americans. For years, emigration to the United States was limited to Mexico and the Caribbean. Today practically every country in the hemisphere is sending nationals north. Brazil, a country of immigration, is now one of emigration. Central America, Ecuador and Peru since the 1980s, Colombia and Venezuela since the 1990s--all have significant proportions of their populations (up to 10 percent) living and working en el norte . …

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