Released 17 April 2007  By Mike Davis interviewed by Justin Akers Chacon
What’s wrong with the STRIVE immigration bill
Mike Davis interviewed by Justin Akers Chacon
April 12, 2007 Socialist Worker
ONE YEAR after the mass marches for immigrant rights that challenged
repressive legislation proposed by congressional Republicans, the Bush
administration is set to unveil harsh new proposals to supply Corporate
America with cheap and vulnerable immigrant labor, ratchet up
enforcement, and make it extremely difficult for undocumented workers
to become U.S. citizens.
According to Ben Feller of the Associated Press, Bush’s plan “would
grant work visas to undocumented immigrants, but require them to return
home and pay hefty fines to become legal U.S. residents. They could
apply for three-year work visas, dubbed ‘Z’ visas, which would be
renewable indefinitely but cost $3,500 each time...
“The undocumented workers would have legal status with the visas, but
to become legal permanent residents with a green card, they'd have to
return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to
re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine. That's far more restrictive
than the bipartisan bill the Senate approved last year.”
The Bush proposals would break up of immigrant families, too, according
to the Washington Post: “In a new twist, more green cards would be made
available to skilled workers by limiting visas for parents, children
and siblings of U.S. citizens. Temporary workers could not bring their
families into the country.”
Many in the immigrant rights movement have looked to the new Democratic
Congress to provide an alternative to Bush and the hardliners. Instead,
the Democrats are seeking a compromise palatable to the
ultra-conservatives in the Republican Party.
The result is a bill--co-authored by two House members, liberal
Democrat Luis Gutiérrez and conservative Republican Jeff Flake--known
as the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy,
or STRIVE Act. It combines a guest-worker program with resuscitated
elements from last year’s effort to criminalize undocumented workers
led by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)
Top-heavy with punitive measures, the STRIVE Act is designed to be an
offer the right wing can’t refuse. That’s why it’s urgent that the
immigrant rights movement separates the myths about the STRIVE Act from
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The STRIVE Act would give undocumented immigrants amnesty.
Despite the right wing’s overheated rhetoric decrying the act’s
“amnesty clause,” its architects ensured that the path to legalization
is constricted, tenuous and subject to forces beyond the control of the
First, the majority of the nation’s 11-13 million undocumented people
(those between ages 21 to 65, and not in the military, disabled or a
single head of household) will have to leave the country within 90 days
of the application process.
Second, they must pay a minimum $2,000 fine and back taxes, and show
proof of presence and consistent employment before and since June 1,
2006. Current law makes those who use fraudulent documents for
employment (roughly 75 percent of all current undocumented workers)
inadmissible for legalization.
While the STRIVE Act would grant immigration officials the right to
override this provision, it doesn’t make this mandatory. It further
precludes any legalization for those convicted of a felony or three
These measures would undoubtedly exclude a significant portion of
undocumented workers, including those who fear losing their job while
undertaking the process. Many would be unable to afford lost pay and
the thousands of dollars of fees and transportation and housing costs
in order to “touch back” to their country of origin.
Also ineligible would be those who entered the country after the June 1
deadline, or who temporarily left the country after that period, or
were unemployed (or unable to prove employment) during that period.
Ultimately, individual immigration agents, who are trained to find
reasons for denial of application, would have the authority to
Those able to satisfy the bill’s requirements would not get a green
card (permanent residence). Instead, they would receive “conditional
non-immigrant status,” a six-year waiting period during which time they
would have to maintain consistent employment, learn fluent English and
be placed in “the back of the line” behind millions of existing
backlogged petitions (Waiting lists today are estimated at 5 to 7
years, although the STRIVE Act does contain clauses to expedite the
process. Current law requires at least a five-year residency before
If an undocumented immigrant worker does manage to complete all steps
in the STRIVE Act, she or he can become a citizen only after at least
15 years--a fact that bill co-sponsor Jeff Flake has used as a selling
point to conservatives.
While some of the undocumented could gain legal status over time,
many--perhaps millions--would fall by the wayside.
Moreover, “conditional non-immigrant” status will make workers
dependent on their jobs--and thus more compliant with poor working
conditions and lower wages, as employers could hold the threat of
termination over their heads.
Coupled with the annual infusions of immigrants in a “new worker”
program, the process will create a large and permanent tier of
non-citizen workers bound to and dependent on employers.
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The STRIVE Act’s “new worker” program gives more protections than
traditional guest-worker programs.
The “new worker” program in the STRIVE Act repackages the discredited
guest-worker programs of the past and present.
Under the proposal, migrant laborers could find temporary employment in
the U.S. for two three-year terms. Each year, 400,000 (up to a cap of
600,000 in succeeding years) potential workers would be selected after
paying a contracting fee of up to $15,000 and passing a health exam.
While these workers would be entitled to “prevailing wages,” the
proposal is suspiciously vague about enforcement mechanisms to prevent
employer abuse, the hallmark of previous guest-worker proposals.
Guest workers would be bound to a single employer and required to work
for the duration of the contract. Any cessation of employment could be
determined a breach of contract, allowing the employer to have the
worker ejected from the country.
While workers would be able to leave an abusive employer, they could do
so only if they can secure another job in advance with another
employer, who must officially offer them work and be registered with
the government to participate in the program.
If a worker were to leave a worksite without notification, they would
be deemed “illegal” and subject to deportation if they are not
reintegrated into a registered worksite within 60 days. All temporary
workers would be tracked through an “Alien Employment Management
System,” so they will be identifiable if they leave a worksite.
Furthermore, the proposal doesn’t expressly guarantee the right to join
a union or engage in collective bargaining. This, too, would leave
workers vulnerable to employers that violate the provisions of the
It is this denial of the freedom of movement and assembly, and the
right to engage in genuine collective bargaining by immigrant guest
workers that make this proposal so appealing for employers.
Unlike the old bracero system and current guest-worker programs, the
STRIVE Act would deliver workers into virtually every sector of the
economy. Employers hope to leverage their control over guest workers to
lower wages across the economy--and to reduce the presence of unions in
Moreover, the STRIVE Act doesn’t guarantee a path to citizenship for
guest workers. They would first have to work continuously for two
three-year terms to apply. They would then be required to leave the
country, pay a $2,000 fee and provide evidence of a job in order to
return to the U.S.
If approved, they would then receive a two-year “conditional
nonimmigrant status,” during which they would have to learn fluent
English and work consistently in order to petition for legal permanent
residence (which could then take several more years, depending on the
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The STRIVE Act is a humane alternative to the enforcement-only
provisions of the Sensenbrenner bill.
The text of the STRIVE Act states that the measure would “achieve
operational control of the international borders of the United States.”
In other words, both external and internal aspects of immigration
policy are to be further militarized as a precondition for the
legalization of undocumented immigrants.
The plan for external militarization includes doubling the number of
Border Patrol agents (to about 24,000) by 2012, emphasizing the
recruitment of former military personnel with experience in border
enforcement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would further add 1,200
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to investigate
The STRIVE Act would also provide more equipment to militarize the
border--100 more helicopters, 250 additional power boats, unmanned
aerial vehicles, tethered aerostat radars, cameras, sensors, satellites
and radar coverage. New border control facilities would include
monitoring posts, housing for agents and additional vehicle barriers.
The emphasis on militarization would extend into the U.S. The proposal
includes the development of a national biometric database to track all
immigrants, as well as an “Electronic Employment Verification System”
to identify the undocumented.
The legislation would create at least 20 new federal detention
facilities with space to house at least an additional 20,000 detainees.
ICE would receive funding for 2,200 agents specifically for “workplace
enforcement,” as well as computer databases for each agent, new radios,
GPS systems, night-vision equipment, body armor and more patrol
Penalties for the undocumented would also become more severe. Those who
cross the border without papers will be criminalized and subject to six
months in prison for a first offense; two years for a second offense,
and five years for a third offense. The use of forged passports or
false visas could result in 15 years in jail.
Employers would face greater sanctions, too. Those that knowingly hire
an undocumented worker would be subject to a fine of $5,000 and three
years in prison.
Local law enforcement would be increasingly enlisted in immigration law
enforcement. The STRIVE Act would allow the federal government to
“deputize” local law enforcement agencies to work with immigration
agents in conducting operations in areas within 100 miles from the
border and in “high impact areas”--that is, any community across the
nation where immigrants are concentrated.
The bill would also grant state governors in the Southern border
regions the right to dispatch state National Guard troops to play a
supporting role in border enforcement.
As if this weren’t enough, the STRIVE Act allows local police to act as
de facto ICE agents, declaring that the “law enforcement personnel of a
state, or a political subdivision of a state, have the inherent
authority of a sovereign entity to investigate, apprehend, arrest,
detain or transfer to federal custody (including the transportation
across state lines to detention centers) an alien for the purpose of
assisting in the enforcement of the criminal provisions of the
immigration laws of the United States in the normal course of carrying
out the law enforcement duties of such personnel.”
The bipartisan support for the STRIVE Act reveals how central
“comprehensive immigration reform” is to Corporate America’s goal of
disempowering labor in the U.S. While the Republican Party was defeated
by the mass immigrant rights movement last spring, the baton has since
passed to a Democratic Congress to salvage Corporate America’s vision.
For those committed to a different vision--one based on full
legalization for all, democratization of society and the empowerment of
working families--the struggle continues in the streets and workplaces
across the U.S.