Il­le­gals back­ers try again in face of job­less rate

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Democrats on Dec. 15 be­gan their new push for an im­mi­gra­tion bill, ham­strung by the im­age of le­gal­iz­ing mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grant work­ers at a time when the un­em­ploy­ment rate stands at 10 per­cent — more than twice what it was the last time Congress tried to act.

“It cer­tainly will con­fuse the de­bate a lot more, but at the end of the day what we have to un­der­stand is fix­ing this sys­tem will be good for Amer­i­can work­ers,” said Eliseo Me­d­ina, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union, which is one of the ma­jor ad­vo­cates for le­gal­iz­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grant work­ers.

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, the Illi­nois Demo­crat who has taken over lead­er­ship on the is­sue af­ter the death of Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, in­tro­duced an im­mi­gra­tion le­gal­iza­tion bill, and back­ers are plan­ning a strat­egy to avoid re­peats of the failed at­tempts of 2006 and 2007.

In a let­ter to mem­bers of Congress two weeks ago seek­ing sup­port for the bill, Mr. Gutierrez and Rep. Ny­dia M. Ve­lazquez, New York Demo­crat and chair­man of the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus, said their leg­is­la­tion will end the offthe-books econ­omy of il­le­gal im­mi­grant work­ers and pro­tect Amer­i­can work­ers by rais­ing la­bor stan­dards.

“In th­ese dif­fi­cult eco­nomic times, we must en­sure that every­one con­trib­utes to­ward the re­cov­ery and pros­per­ity of our na­tion,” they wrote. “To this end, it is im­per­a­tive that all in­di­vid­u­als and em­ploy­ers pay their fair share in taxes.”

A draft over­view of the bill, cir­cu­lated with the let­ter, ends some en­force­ment tools such as the 287(g) lo­cal po­lice co­op­er­a­tion pro­gram, calls for an elec­tronic ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem to re­place the vol­un­tary E-ver­ify pro­gram, ar­gues that there’s no need for more U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol agents or fenc­ing, and es­tab­lishes a long-term path to cit­i­zen­ship for il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

That path would re­quire il­le­gal im­mi­grants to pay a $500 fine, pass a back­ground check and learn English and civics to gain le­gal sta­tus. Af­ter six years, they could ap­ply for le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dence, or a green card, which is the in­terim step to cit­i­zen­ship. There is no “touchback” pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing them to re- turn to their home coun­tries at some point in the process.

Repub­li­cans are sharp­en­ing their at­tacks and go­ing straight for the jobs ar­gu­ment.

“With 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans out of work, it’s hard to be­lieve that any­one would give amnesty to 12 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants,” said Rep. La­mar Smith of Texas, the top Repub­li­can on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “Even the open-bor­ders crowd agrees that il­le­gal im­mi­grants take jobs from Amer­i­can work­ers, par­tic­u­larly poor and dis­ad­van­taged cit­i­zens and le­gal im­mi­grants. This is ex­actly why we need to op­pose amnesty.”

His of­fice has cal­cu­lated that there are 19 states where the num­ber of il­le­gal im­mi­grants in the work force is at least 50 per­cent of the num­ber of un­em­ployed work­ers.

Ari­zona tops the list, with un­em­ploy­ment at 293,000 as of Oc­to­ber and with 300,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants ei­ther work­ing or seek­ing work as of 2008, ac­cord­ing to a 2009 Pew His­panic Cen­ter re­port. New Jer­sey, Ne­vada, Mary­land and Texas round out the top five states.

The Im­mi­gra­tion Pol­icy Cen­ter says em­ploy­ment is “not a zero-sum game” and that a le­gal­iza­tion pro­gram would in­crease

But she said his­tory has shown that there are some jobs that Amer­i­can work­ers won’t take and im­mi­grant work­ers will.

She pointed to re­sort com­mu­ni­ties in Michi­gan that strug­gled to find work­ers this sum­mer even though they were just a cou­ple of coun­ties away from Detroit, which has been dev­as­tated by lay­offs.

“Laid-off au­towork­ers in Detroit don’t want to travel across the state, let alone across the coun­try, to pick pears, pick ap­ples,” she said.

“In 1986, the last time we tried im­mi­gra­tion re­form, Congress told it­self that Amer­i­can

“With 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans out of work, it’s hard to be­lieve that any­one would give amnesty to 12 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants,” said Rep. La­mar Smith of Texas, the top Repub­li­can on the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “Even the open-bor­ders crowd agrees that il­le­gal im­mi­grants take jobs from Amer­i­can work­ers, par­tic­u­larly poor and dis­ad­van­taged cit­i­zens and le­gal im­mi­grants. This is ex­actly why we need to op­pose amnesty.”

tax rev­enues and con­sumer spending.

Sup­port­ers of le­gal­iza­tion ac­knowl­edge the tough sell on jobs but say the math is more com­plex than stack­ing un­em­ploy­ment and im­mi­gra­tion num­bers against each other.

“Of course it com­pli­cates it. Of course the pub­lic’s first re­ac­tion is un­der­stand­able, it’s why do we need more work­ers when up­wards of 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are out of work,” said Ta­mar Ja­coby, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Im­mi­gra­tionWorks USA, a coali­tion of busi­nesses push­ing for im­mi­gra­tion re­form. em­ploy­ers could be weaned from their need for work­ers. That was just un­re­al­is­tic be­cause Amer­i­cans do not want to work in meat-pro­cess­ing plants, they do not want to clean rooms in ho­tels, they do not want to work as dish­wash­ers.”

The 1986 amnesty le­gal­ized mil­lions of il­le­gal im­mi­grants but did not stop more from com­ing.

In 2006, at Pres­i­dent Bush’s urg­ing, the Se­nate passed a bill to le­gal­ize most il­le­gal im­mi­grants and to boost se­cu­rity. That bill stalled when the House in­sisted on an en­force­ment-only ap­proach.

In 2007, with Democrats in con­trol of Congress, the Se­nate tried again — but the bill failed af­ter a pub­lic out­cry shut down the Se­nate phone sys­tem and a bi­par­ti­san ma­jor­ity of se­na­tors joined a fil­i­buster. Law­mak­ers said vot­ers didn’t think the gov­ern­ment would fol­low through on en­force­ment.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate av­er­aged 4.6 per­cent in 2006 and 2007, or less than half of the cur­rent 10 per­cent rate.

Pres­i­dent Obama has said he wants Congress to act next year on im­mi­gra­tion, and has tapped Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano to be­gin or­ga­niz­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­fort.

Ms. Napoli­tano, in a speech last month, said enough progress has been made on bor­der se­cu­rity, and that she’s try­ing to re­fo­cus in­te­rior en­force­ment on danger­ous il­le­gal im­mi­grants and un­scrupu­lous em­ploy­ers rather than work­ers. Part of that re­fo­cused ef­fort in­volves au­dits of I9 forms, the work autho­riza­tion doc­u­ments all work­ers must file when they take a job.

But Ms. Napoli­tano has taken fire from both sides. Those who want a crack­down say she’s let­ting il­le­gal im­mi­grant work­ers off the hook by not de­port­ing them when they’re caught, while im­mi­grant-rights ad­vo­cates say the I-9 au­dit fo­cuses on the wrong em­ploy­ers.

Mr. Me­d­ina, in a call with re­porters on Dec. 14, said em­ploy­ers who fill out I-9 forms are at least em­ploy­ing work­ers on the books and pay­ing taxes on their in­come. He said Ms. Napoli­tano in­stead should go af­ter busi­nesses that ig­nore the I-9 re­quire­ments and hire work­ers off the books, which he said makes those work­ers more open to ex­ploita­tion.

“They are try­ing to look tough in en­forc­ing the law. But this is not about looking tough; this is about solv­ing prob­lems,” he said.

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