By ALEX MENESES MIYASHITA
Hispanic Link News Service
October 01, 2005
National advocacy groups and members of immigrant, labor and religious groups from 29 states joined elected officials Sept. 20 in Washington to kick off a series of rallies to press Congress on the issue. The groups followed with a day of lobbying Sept. 21.
"It's one of thousands of rallies and demonstrations we have to have all over America if we're going to win," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., are sponsoring a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country for up to six years as temporary workers. It would also allow them to begin proceedings toward permanent residency.
A companion bill in the House is sponsored by Reps. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., Jim Kolbe R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake R-Ariz.
"The White House wants (immigration reform), and many of us in the House do so as well," Flake said, after a meeting with Bush administration officials.
Flake conceded that Hurricane Katrina-related relief efforts and Supreme Court nominations could delay the process, but added, "We in the House have plenty of time between now and Thanksgiving to do it."
John Keeley, communications director for the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, said he expected"high profile" hearings in the House and Senate, but no legislative action.
He said the McCain/Kennedy bill does not have much of a chance to pass, even if the White House has expressed interest in pushing through a guest-worker program that includes undocumented immigrants.
"(Bush's) position with immigration is at odds with his own party," Keeley said. "The House of Representatives isn't going to pass an amnesty for illegal aliens."
Supporters of the bill have insisted it offers "earned legalization" because undocumented immigrants would have to pay fines in order to be eligible for legal status.
"Any realistic guest-worker program must include provisions for those who are already in this country regardless of how they arrived here," Kolbe said.
Angela Kelley, deputy director of the pro-immigrant group National Immigration Forum, recognized there might not be a vote this year, but added, "Because this is the first year of the 109th Congress, any action on bills just picks right up in January.
"People know that the 11 million undocumented folks in this country have to be dealt with," she said.
A competing bill, sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would require undocumented immigrants to leave the country within five years in order to be allowed to re-enter as guest workers. It places larger emphasis on enforcement of immigration law than does the McCain/Kennedy bill.
"(The McCain/Kennedy bill) has nothing about hiring interior agents," Keeley said.
But opponents of the Cornyn/Kyl bill claim it is unrealistic to expect undocumented immigrants to report to authorities to leave the country.
Michele Waslin, immigration policy research director for the National Council of La Raza, expressed concern that the bill "says nothing about family immigration, nothing about reuniting families. It's very enforcement heavy, and we think that we cannot enforce our current laws without truly reforming the system in a meaningful way."
He may be reached by e-mail at Alex(AT)Hispaniclink.org
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