When the U.S. Senate passed its historic bill for immigration reform, I wanted to jump for joy.
To be clear: I wanted to, but I couldn't.
There is much in this bill to celebrate. To a nearly shocking, wildest-dreams degree, S.744 offers a glimpse at what common-sense, inclusive immigration reform could actually look like. It would create an unprecedented pathway to citizenship for millions of new Americans, half of whom are women. It includes positive changes to our immigration system -- measures that protect and include women's rights, workers' rights, family unity, and survivors of violence -- that stand to benefit immigrant women and families and our nation as a whole.
But at what cost? After more than a decade of working for fair and humane immigration reform, I remain deeply concerned that the price we may be forced to pay for this pathway will be far, far too high.
Because what looks like a clear map to citizenship is actually more of a minefield. For one thing, the bill denies basic human rights to millions of hard-working families by denying them access to health care. It also allocates billions of scarce dollars for more punitive anti-immigrant enforcement measures including detention and deportation practices that -- as Breakthrough has documented -- have for decades led to abuse, violence, even death.
And that's not even the real firepower -- literal, actual, lethal firepower -- packed inside. The bill allocates $47 billion (billion!) to "secure" an already-secure border with drones, high-tech surveillance, and enough additional agents to place one every 274 feet -- in other words, to build what Arizona Sen. John McCain has proudly called "the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall."
Let's see. What else could we do with $47 billion? We could fund women's health for 12 years. We could feed more than 7 million families of four for one year. We could put more than 1.3 million kids through four years of college.
The Senate bill -- and the current terms of the immigration debate -- would trade all that for a whole bunch of new drones, and countless human rights abuses and lives.
Since 9/11, Breakthrough has diligently, creatively documented and raised awareness about the human rights abuses the U.S. government has perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the name of "national security" and the "war on terror." The unidentified loved ones in body bags in towns near harsh border crossings; the young men racially profiled; the families torn apart by deportation, often without due process; the gay and lesbian couples separated by unjust laws; the parents unable to protect their own children; the detainees abused by their guards and the system; the women forced to give birth in shackles: these are the stories we have told about humans, not "aliens," the stories that demand just and humane treatment for all who live on our soil and enrich this nation.
We stand now at a historic crossroads for immigration reform. We have been here before. But today, the stakes are higher than ever -- for immigrants' rights and lives, for the values we as a nation hold dear. As the current bill moves in to the House, we must raise our voices against the costly and destructive border-military complex. We must reject any measure that enshrines inequality. Together, we must continue to demand humane, sensible, inclusive reform that improves the lives of millions of immigrant women, men, and families -- and makes us a better nation for it.
Right now, in light of what the Trayvon Martin tragedy laid bare about American justice and privilege, I am not feeling so confident about our prospects. But that incident and its aftermath only reinforce the need for us to fight against the militarization of our border. Trayvon's case, if nothing else, has mobilized so many about the dangers of racism and profiling; perhaps some anger will be channeled toward a better bill. Bottom line, a majority of people in the U.S. want commonsense, fair and humane immigration reform. And when millions of new Americans are squarely on the path to citizenship and further changing the face of America -- for the better -- maybe we can finally tear all our internal, invisible borders down, too.