Senate Immigration “Reform” Bill Steps Up Repressive Measures

July 30, 2013

As we wrote in April, the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) bill betrays the hopes of immigrant workers and steps up anti-immigrant attacks:

The CIR bill reinforces the measures already being used to jail and deport a record number of immigrants. It allocates billions of dollars to the construction of border fences and drone surveillance. It will inevitably add to the numbers who die each year trying to cross the border, and those trapped and suffering in local jails and detention centers. The wide array of requirements that undocumented immigrants will have to meet will mean that most are unlikely to ever see its promised “pathway to citizenship.” And all these onerous provisions are expected to be expanded over the next six months, as the politicians in Washington negotiate the bill’s final terms.[1]

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, our last prediction has come true: the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed June 27 was even worse than the previous versions of the CIR bill. It incorporated an amendment by Republican Senators Bob Corker and John Hoeven that provides for a “border surge” even worse than the already repressive provisions in the original bill. Now the Senate bill would allocate $25 billion to double the number of border patrol agents from 21,000 to 40,000 and build a 700-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border. It would install a multi-billion dollar border surveillance system using drones and other deadly technology. It would mandate all employers to use the E-verify computer system to check workers’ immigration status, and it would establish a visa entry/exit system to be used against immigrants who overstay their visas. Under the bill, no undocumented immigrant can even qualify for legal status until all of these security measures have been implemented.

As Republican Senator Lindsay Graham stated: “This is the equivalent of adding three or four regiments to the border….Literally, it will almost militarize the border as a surge.”[2]

This repressive amendment was adopted to persuade anti-immigrant Republican Senators to vote for the bill, which explains why Graham and others bent over backwards to boast about the massive border security provisions. The Democratic Party for its part had no qualms about making these concessions to win Republican votes: every single Democratic Senator voted for the bill.[3]

In spite of all this, it is still not enough to satisfy the even more extremely anti-immigrant Republicans in the House of Representatives, so the bill is unlikely to be adopted into law as it stands now. But the repressive anti-immigrant attacks in the Senate bill may very well pave the way for laws that implement only border security measures, without even the false promise of a path to citizenship for immigrants.

When the Corker-Hoeven border security amendment was adopted, a number of immigrant rights activist groups spoke out in protest against the repressive bill. Among these groups were the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, the Migrant Justice Coalition, the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamerica,, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

But President Obama took the lead in squashing any objections to the bill by immigrant rights activists. Obama held a White House meeting with activists in May, where he warned them not to try to improve the bill.[4] The statement by Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamerica even claimed that Obama cursed out activists at this meeting:

No president or CEO can tell us to “shut the fuck up” and not tinker with the proposed legislation by amendments as did Obama to his selected “Latino leaders” at the White House in May 2013.[5]

And yet, despite all of the anti-immigrant attacks in the bill and the contempt shown by Obama and the Democrats, the biggest immigrant rights groups and labor unions shamefully went along with it and supported the Senate bill. Immigration activists and young Dream Act supporters applauded and chanted “Yes we can!” in the Senate chamber when the bill was passed.[6]

The America’s Voice coalition, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, and the National Council of La Raza all supported the Senate bill.[7] Isn’t it clear that the leaderships of these organizations would prefer to go along with Obama and the Democratic Party rather than challenge the status quo? Instead of launching a real fight to defend the lives of millions of immigrants, which cannot be confined to the legislative arena in any case, there have just been shameful capitulations to the terrible Senate bill. This situation shows once again that immigrant workers cannot rely on the Democratic Party and the capitalist political system to advance their interests. Only the mass struggle and independent organization of the working class in its own revolutionary party can meet the real needs of immigrant workers and all workers.


1. May Day 2013: Amnesty and Equal Rights for All Immigrants!.

2. New York Times, June 21, 2013.

3. Huffington Post, June 27, 2013.

4. See the editorial by Antonio Gonzalez in Newsday, June 24, 2013.

5. “Border Militarization Amendment Prevails with Majority Democratic Vote”.

6. Huffington Post, June 27, 2013.

7. See “Landmark Immigration Bill Passes Senate 68-32”; “Will House Block Road Map to Citizenship?”; “Senate passes the most significant overhaul of our nation's immigration laws in a generation”; “We Will Remember Who Stood With Us on Passing Immigration Reform….”.