The national discussion on immigration reform is heating up now that the “Gang of Eight” plans to release its detailed version of the Senate bill. As with similar efforts in past years to pass comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, the draft legislation to start the process will undergo massive changes as legislators debate the issue, especially as it moves into the House of Representatives. Yet one point has received considerably less attention in the national debate, but will probably make the most difference to most immigrants and the economy– the enforcement of workplace rights.
I have been involved in the debate on immigration reform now for more than 25 years, since the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). I have seen the demographics of the country shift and have witnessed this debate in many stages and from many perspectives.
One thing we learned from the Immigration Reform Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 is that it fell dramatically short when it came to improving the working conditions of the estimated three million immigrants who gained legal status.
It was announced over the weekend the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” came to an agreement in principle on a major aspect of creating a commonsense immigration process that benefits all workers.
This agreement includes a new kind of worker visa program called the W-Visa, which will work for everyone, not just employers.
Here are five things you need to know about this new employer-based visa:
A black man—Barack Obama—sits in the Oval Office. A black woman—Oprah Winfrey—joins Warren Buffett and Bill Gates on the Forbes magazine list of richest individuals in the world. A black couple—Jay-Z and Beyonce—own a basketball team and buy an $80,000 diamond-encrusted Barbie doll for their one-year-old daughter. With such examples of impressive success and vulgar excess it’s easy to think that America’s long history of racial inequality has come to an end.
But then along comes a Brandeis University study showing that even as racial inequalities in terms of education and income have narrowed, the gap in wealth between black and white families has dramatically widened. Between 1985 and 2009, the gap in wealth between white and black families nearly tripled. It may be tempting to imagine that poor choices or lack of a work ethic can explain the disparity, but the study found that for the most part, the wealth gap is not the result of differences in education,
As California grapples with a prison system so broken that the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated reductions in the number of prisoners it holds, the three-part “Smart Justice: Rethinking Public Safety in California” discussion begun this past week at the University of Southern California is examining both consequences and possible solutions to the state’s mass incarceration mess.
Moderated by Tomás Rivera Policy Institute director Roberto Suro, the first session—titled “California’s Corrections Systems and the Lives They Impact” and organized by Californians for Safety and Justice and USC’s Students Talk Back program—featured presentations by James Austin, president of the JFA Institute and author of a ground-breaking report on reducing prison populations, Susan Burton, former inmate and founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, and USC graduate students Emily Reisner and Jennifer Moore.
A New Way of Life
“Each time I got out of prison,
How will America, which espouses the virtues of forgiveness and freedom, successfully deal with the thousands of people who leave its prisons every year? As the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States has a unique responsibility to chart a different, more humane course towards incarceration. Fifty years after the historic March on Washington helped usher the end of legally sanctioned discrimination, the formerly incarcerated remain stripped of basic rights. In many states they can’t vote, live in public housing or receive public assistance. And so they end up recycled in and out of some of America’s most deplorable institutions.
In the same way that Mississippi or Alabama were vital battlefronts in the struggle for civil rights a half century ago, California, with the country’s largest prison population, is ground zero for what many see as the major social and political issue of today. Like other states in the 1980s and 1990s,