It didn’t take long for what could very well be the signature policy initiative of President Barack Obama’s second term to surface — an initiative that could impact thousands of people in Santa Barbara County.
Just a week after the president’s inauguration, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators emerged from the normal squabbling of Washington, D.C., with a framework for comprehensive immigration reform, which, if passed into law, would usher in the most significant changes to immigration law in decades. While the group of four Democrats and four Republicans face an uphill climb, their plan is in many ways similar to Obama’s.
His plan calls for smarter enforcement, a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and the streamlining of legal immigration for those who do what is required of them. The group of senators have four main legislative pillars they plan to push: a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here — with conditions — while strengthening the border, creating an effective employment verification system, establishing a process for admitting future workers while protecting the workforce already here, and reforming the legal immigration system.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and Representative Lois Capps, along with groups in Santa Barbara, is waiting to see what, exactly, those specifics will look like. Capps, in a statement, said she was encouraged by the development but that the finer points of the plan need to be examined carefully. “The framework released today contains many of the elements of a comprehensive immigration plan I have long supported, including strengthening border security, ensuring our immigration system helps our economy grow, and creating a tough but fair path to citizenship that helps keep families together,” she said. “Additionally, the framework includes provisions that make youth a priority, similar to the DREAM Act, and one to help bolster our agricultural workforce, both of which have long been my top priorities.”
“It’s great it is being discussed,” said Anabel Merino, a CAUSE organizer for South Santa Barbara County. “We do need something truly comprehensive.”
The Central Coast Comprehensive Immigration Reform Taskforce — organized by CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy), along with such groups as Casa de la Raza, Just Communities, PUEBLO, and LatiDems, among others — announced its formation last week, with the goal to push for action on immigration in 2013. The group certainly didn’t have to wait long or make too much noise before seeing some ideas on the table. “It’s great it is being discussed,” said Anabel Merino, a CAUSE organizer for South Santa Barbara County. “We do need something truly comprehensive.”
Merino said it is important that whatever legislation is introduced doesn’t create more fear for people who already have to live their lives in the shadows. She also said CAUSE would like to see a guest-worker provision and that CAUSE supports legislation that keeps families together. There is also concern, she said, that the proposed plan would lead to the border becoming “militarized.”
According to statistics in a 2011 American Community Survey provided by CAUSE, there are an estimated 103,038 immigrants in Santa Barbara County, or 24 percent of the population. Of those, more than 39,000 are undocumented. That number includes 23,755 undocumented workers and just more than 10,000 undocumented farmworkers.
Marilyn DeYoung, chair of the board for the Santa Barbara–based Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) — who sent a letter to supporters fundraising to grow the CAPS “grassroot Anti-Amnesty Team” Tuesday afternoon — said there are steps that should be taken to reform immigration law, but she is worried about both the cost to the country and the increase in population. The border needs to be totally secured, she said, only 300,000 immigrants need to be let in the country per year, and a lot of the 31 different types of visas need to either be consolidated or eliminated. Enforcement of the border, DeYoung said, has been promised by past presidents who haven’t followed through. “Politicians are ruled by … fear and greed,” DeYoung said. “They do not think about America’s future and this population.”
While the group of senators called their planned path to citizenship tough but fair, DeYoung said the “amnesty” would lead to the population mushrooming exponentially. She said the costs to process 11 million people will be extensive and that people utilizing government services will increase with more immigrants. “We already have 47 percent of the nation on entitlements,” she said. “The American people are really scared and want to see Congress cut spending. All of this comprehensive immigration reform is just going to increase the debt.”