News Column

Immigration Reform Groups Keep Heat on Congress

November 25, 2013


When Congress returns from its winter recess in early January, immigration reform supporters plan to turn up the heat to get legislation passed.

But with partisan gridlock and midterm elections in 2014, supporters recognize that the window is closing to get significant immigration reform legislation passed

"Now is the time to write, email or phone Congressional representatives and urge passage for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes a path to citizenship," said Brent A. Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), in an e-mail.

The debate between Democrats and Republicans in the House as to whether pass comprehensive immigration reform supported by Democrats in favor of a piecemeal approach backed by Republicans has prevented any meaningful legislation from passing.

There are some Democrats, however, willing to consider a piecemeal approach such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a leading supporter of comprehensive reform. President Barack Obama has said he will consider a piecemeal approach as long as the bills hit key points such as stronger border security.

"The priority is to have a bill that includes a pathway to citizenship," said Mr. Wilkes.

The GOP is deeply divided on the issue. While there is support to provide a pathway to citizenship, many within the party are reluctant to include any form of it, including for those children who were brought to the country by their parents.

"In many cases it's not their fault," said Ira Mehlman, a spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "If you send the message (that) if you bring your children to the United States illegally, that's going to get them a free ticket into the United States, then you're simply encouraging people to do precisely that."

Mr. Mehlman says the best way to approach the issue is for the government to increase penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Fearing the potential penalties, employers will be less likely to hire illegal immigrants and those workers will stop coming to the country if no jobs are available, he said.

"If you change the circumstances and make it clear you're not going to benefit by remaining in the country illegally, many will do the very rational thing and go home," Mr. Mehlman said. "That means not just securing the border but making it clear to people you're not going to get a job because we're monitoring the employers."

In June, the Democratic-held Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, a bill drafted by a bipartisan group in the Senate. The bill provided a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

Mr. Obama approved of the plan, citing estimates by independent economists that the bill would increase the economy by $1.4 trillion, and also reduce the deficit. Despite the impact to the economy and bipartisan support of the bill, House Speaker John Boehner was quick to turn down the reform bill, opting for a piecemeal approach to the issue.

"From our perspective, we hope the (Republican) party realizes how important this legislation is to the country and acts accordingly," Mr. Wilkes said.

Mr. Wilkes says Boehner and Republicans risk losing the Hispanic vote for years to come if they do not act on immigration reform.

"They won't even allow a bill on the house floor that includes a pathway to citizenship thereby preventing 11 million undocumented people an opportunity to come out of the shadows," Mr. Wilkes said. "This is an issue that the Latino community is paying attention to and their dissatisfaction will be reflected at the ballot box."

The issue will remain on the table for Congress despite other pressing issues and 2014 midterm elections.

"In the end, this is a pressing issue that must be addressed, if not this year, then in 2014," Mr. Wilkes said. "Rest assured that the Latino community will not stop fighting for immigration reform until it becomes a reality."

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Source: (c) 2013. All rights reserved.

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