Just a few months ago, immigrant rights supporters had hopes of passing a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that would strengthen border security while also creating an urgently needed pathway to citizenship for the millions of people without documents who already live in the United States.
But in a surprise move, shortly before Christmas, the House of Representatives passed one of the most vicious anti-immigrant bills in more than a decade. If it were enacted into law, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 would make it a federal crime to live in the U.S. illegally, turning the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants into felons overnight. It would also make it a crime for social service agencies or church groups to shield or offer support to undocumented immigrants.
The extreme measures in this bill would have been unthinkable just a short while ago. It speaks to the extent to which immigration has become a political flashpoint for various groups who have come to see it as a major threat to the American status quo. While the immediate targets of this bill are those who cross into the U.S. without visas, Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), one of the bill’s main supporters, has declared that his ultimate goal is a moratorium on all legal immigration and the denying of citizenship to children born to noncitizens.
News of the harsh legislation has heightened anxiety in immigrant communities. According to Brendan Curran, a priest at St. Pius V Catholic Church in the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community, “There’s so much fear, they won’t even call the police or fire department if something is going on next door. If this becomes law, nurses and priests will not be able to do their work.”