(by Russell Berman, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON- Pressure is mounting on Capitol Hill for action on immigration, with the leading Democratic presidential candidate and the richest man in America adding their voices to a renewed push to overhaul a system that has let an estimated 12 million foreigners enter America illegally.
“We must pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Senator Clinton told hundreds of cheering Irish immigrants at a rally in the Washington Court Hotel.
She spoke as Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts and Senator McCain of Arizona are trying to hammer out a revised version of the bill that passed the Republican-controlled Senate last year before being blocked by conservatives in the House who wanted tougher law enforcement and border security measures.
Despite the shift in congressional power to Democrats, Mrs. Clinton warned that immigration advocates would have to confront “formidable opponents” again.
“We cannot just take half steps,” the senator said, “and we certainly cannot give in to those who would deny the rights of people, undermine their human rights, act as though we didn’t have 12 million people here who are working hard every day doing what they can to support themselves, their families, and contribute to the well being of our country.”
Supporters of immigration secured another ally yesterday in the chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates, who called on Congress to loosen visa restrictions for highly skilled workers who want to come to America.
“We have to welcome the great minds in this world, not shut them out of our country,” Mr. Gates said in testimony before Mr. Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “Unfortunately, our immigration policies are driving away the world’s best and brightest precisely when we need them most.”
Citing the need to maintain America’s edge in technology, Mr. Gates urged lawmakers to raise, or even eliminate, the annual cap on visas for skilled professionals, which is currently 65,000. He also pushed for a speedier process for skilled workers to apply for permanent residency status.
Newly empowered Democrats are facing expectations to deliver on immigration, since it is one issue on which they agree with President Bush. The president supported the McCain-Kennedy bill that passed the Senate last year, and he called for the passage of “comprehensive immigration reform” in his State of the Union address. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy, Laura Capps, said the new bill being worked out would be fundamentally the same as the version passed last year. Mr. Kennedy has said he expects to introduce it by next week. Among the details to be finalized, Ms. Capps said, were the eligibility requirements for illegal immigrants who would enter a guest-worker program.
Critics of the bill say it amounts to “amnesty” for immigrants who broke the law, and many Republicans support legislation focused on securing the nation’s borders, including the construction of a fence along the boundary between Mexico and America.
To drum up support in advance of introducing the bill, Mr. Kennedy appeared yesterday morning with the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and said that Congress was determined to act in 2007.
The chief obstacle, some analysts say, could be the politics of 2008, and the presidential campaign that has already begun in earnest. At least six senators are running for the White House, including Mr. McCain, a Republican of Arizona who is principal co-sponsor of the legislation.
“There’s going to be the temptation to either not touch it or stall and blame the other guy,” a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who studies immigration, Tamar Jacoby, said.
The bill seeks to combine tougher enforcement of illegal immigration and more border security with a path to citizenship through a guest worker program, bringing together a collection of constituencies with vastly different priorities. While the potential of alienating certain groups with a compromise bill carries political risk, it could pale in comparison to the risk of shelving the issue altogether, said Ms. Jacoby, who supported the McCain-Kennedy bill.
“I think the public wants it done in the worst way,” she said. “For a lot of people, it’s become synonymous with, Ã¢â‚¬ËœCan’t Congress govern?'” Confronting the immigration issue has been tricky for presidential candidates in both parties.
On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton has sought to balance her support for a path to legalization for undocumented workers with calls to deport illegal immigrants who have a criminal record and tougher penalties on employers who don’t follow immigration laws.
Her appearance at the rally yesterday was primarily in her official capacity as a senator. It wasn’t a formal presidential campaign appearance. But it served the dual purpose of building support among Irish-Americans. Mrs. Clinton was introduced as possibly “the second President Clinton,” and the crowd greeted her with cheers and a sustained ovation. Several people held up signs reading, “Irish-Americans for Senator Hillary Clinton.”
While the former first lady did not address her candidacy directly, she heaped praise on the tradition of Irish immigrants. “America would not be America were it not for Irish immigration to America,” she said.
She also spoke in broad strokes about the need for continued immigration. “The richness of America is that our promise has been sent out across the oceans for hundreds of years, and if that promise is breached, then America is no longer what she should be,” she said.
Senator Schumer spoke earlier in the rally, saying that Washington now has a Congress that is “much friendlier” to immigrants and promising “a version that you will like, a version that you will support.”
Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Schumer have drawn criticism in some quarters for a perceived reluctance to appear as often with immigrant groups of color as they do with Irish immigrants. “We still feel like in public they are slow to respond to immigrant communities of color,” a leader in the New York-based umbrella group Immigrant Communities in Action, Monami Maulik, said. “That continues to be the case.”
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
The issue being addressed is not legal immigration. It is illegal immigration. There are 12 million people in the U.S. illegally. People have different ideas on how the problem of illegal immigrants can be solved. The two main sides are as follows:
- President Bush and most Democratic leaders want to provide a way for the 12 million illeals to become legal citizens. They believe the focus of any immigration reform bill must be this “guest-worker” or “amnesty” program, and stress it as most important, focusing on it over securing the border or seriously enforcing existing immigration laws. They focus on the fact that many illegal immigrants are hard-working and it is not fair to keep them “in the shadows.”
- Some Republican leaders and many Republican voters see a secure border as priority. They want a fence built at the U.S./Mexico border, and existing immigration laws to be enforced first. They say we can address the issue of the 12 million here illegally after the border is secure and immigration laws are being enforced. They believe President Bush’s “guest-worker” program is amnesty and do not think that it is fair to the millions of immigrants who waited on line and came here legally.
1. Why did conservative members of the House of Representatives block an immigration bill that passed the Senate last year?
2. Re-read Sen. Clinton’s statements about immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally. Do you agree with her? Explain your answer.
3. Citing the need to maintain America’s edge in technology, billionaire Bill Gates urged Congress to eliminate the cap on visas available for foreign skilled professionals, and pushed for a speedier process for skilled workers to apply for permanent residency status. What do you think Mr. Gates’ motive is for asking Congress to do these things?
4. a) Why don’t critics like the revised McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill?
b) Do you agree or disagree with them? Explain your answer.
5. What is included in the revised immigration reform bill?
6. On the campaign trail, Sen. Clinton has sought to balance her support for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants with calls to deport those who have a criminal record and tougher penalties on employers who do not follow immigration laws.
Political candidates provide a page on their websites that explains where they stand on the issues. Go to the “Hillary for President” website at hillaryclinton.com. What information can you find on Mrs. Clinton’s website to further detail her position on illegal immigration/immigration reform?
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