The Dead End of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform”

“La lucha obrera no tiene frontera.” “The working class struggle has no borders.”

That’s a chant you’ll often hear on an immigrant rights protest. But for too long, this sentiment has been absent from the mainstream debate around immigration.

That’s because the movement for immigrant justice and equality has been damaged politically for over a decade by its support for the pro-corporate framework known as “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR).

Comprehensive immigration reform takes as its starting point the need to offer enhanced border security and enforcement against “bad” immigrants as the precondition for winning some sort of limited relief for “good” immigrants who are willing to pay the price and atone for being “illegal” in the first place. (Most versions of CIR also include “guest worker” provisions to ensure a continued supply of cheap immigrant labor, though this aspect is often downplayed by advocates.)

The basic ideological framework of CIR was summed up in a 2007 primary debate by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama:

We want to have situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules, [and] are willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process should have a pathway to legalization. Most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured.

Coming from Obama, these words sounded reasonable enough for many progressives. Similarly, the term “comprehensive immigration reform” can sound like common sense: Who wouldn’t want the legislation to be comprehensive?

But what this ostensibly benign rhetoric obscures is a reign of terror on immigrant communities that Obama himself elevated to a high art during this eight years in office.

For the past decade, CIR has required the deportation of over 100,000 people a year, the detention of hundreds of thousands more in inhuman conditions

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