Immigrants being pandered to yet again

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Latinos are caught smack in between the controversial collision of two of the most “hot-button” issues of the year: Social Security and immigration.

Proposed by President Bush, the hotly contended “REAL ID Act,” which tightens U.S. immigration systems so as to achieve maximum homeland security, passed 261-161 in the House just last week. Measures under this bill include a national identification system that denies driver licenses to undocumented immigrants, calls for stricter qualifications for asylum seekers, and also for the empowerment of “bounty hunters” to deport those who are suspected of terrorist activity.

The author of the REAL ID Act, Congressmember James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, has stated that “the goal of the REAL ID Act is straightforward: it seeks to prevent another Sept. 11-type attack by disrupting terrorist travel.”

Clearly the new initiatives crawl closer to the scary parallel between U.S. isolation acts and George Orwell’s “1984,” yet a sneaky addition has been pushed into the initiative, endorsing a guest-worker program specifically aimed to appeal to Latinos.

Generally speaking, the guest-worker program sounds exceptionally good-natured, partly due to its vague content. As part of the driver license initiative, this program proposal would allow an estimated 8 million undocumented immigrants to obtain guest-worker visas along with driver licenses, and would allow employment in select temporary jobs.

Immediately, the initiative suspiciously echoes the Bracero programs commissioned in the 1940s and 1950s, which allowed Mexican workers to fill seasonal fruit picking jobs, but ultimately resulted in the exploitation of Mexican labor.

Totalization agreements have been made between the United States and Mexico that allow both nations to coordinate tax payments and benefits that would come out of our nation’s Social Security Administration. That is, a small portion of protection will be made available to Mexican immigrants who work under the guest-worker program. It all sounds very righteous and reasonable, but loopholes can still be found.

Offering guest-worker visas to undocumented immigrants creates a terrible imbalance of power, and as one union leader put it, is a “recipe for incredible exploitation of workers.” It becomes truly difficult for immigrant workers to complain about unfair wages and unjust labor circumstances when their immigration status is tied to their employment.

And although the initiatives grant employee benefits, they do not guarantee the maintenance of decent wages, labor conditions or a decent lifestyle for the workers. Social Security benefits do not necessarily mean health care coverage or resources to unionize. In reality, the initiative would only be beneficial to employers who would be pleased with a consistent inflow of immigrant workers.

Not allowing documented immigrants the right to obtain driver licenses in particular states does not mean those immigrants will stop attempting to enter the United States. America is notorious for its “melting pot,” which makes immigration almost inevitable when one considers the low economic status and employment opportunities of some emigration-heavy countries. And like it or not, immigration is a grand contribution to the U.S. cultural realm, as well as to the economy, be it legal or illegal. Moreover, the Act’s effort to nationalize the process of obtaining a driver license displays further attempts by the government to infringe upon the civil liberties of suspected legal and undocumented immigrants by monitoring the actions of those “suspects.”

The driver license initiative is only a small piece of what the REAL ID Act intends to accomplish. Unrestricted and absolute authority to reject any refugee, and the power to deport any suspected immigrant “in the name of national security,” is our government’s way of “filtering.” It will only generate anti-immigration sentiment and fuel hostile attitudes toward Latino Americans, who would be taking sums of money out of Social Security. The Act would further allow the racial profiling of those suspected to be “terrorists.”

Anti-terrorism slowly becomes anti-immigration under the REAL ID Act by attempting to control the number of immigrants American employers are allowed to exploit for labor in the United States. The same immigrants who would be seemingly “helped” by this initiative are being targeted as main supporters for this initiative, which makes sense, as they’ve become the largest minority in the United States.

Nice try, Mr. President, but we know better.

Belinda Arredondo is a junior double major in Honors English Literature and Spanish Language and Culture.