January 13, 2009

U.S. Immigration Reform Could Happen in September

WASHINGTON (AFP) — After two failed attempts in 2006 and 2007, immigration reform could finally be pushed through both houses of the US Congress starting in September, civil rights activists said.
"We are confident and very optimistic that there's likely to be a big window of opportunity between September 2009 and March 2010," America's Voice pro-reform group director Frank Sharry said in a telephone conference.
"I think that would be a good time simply because there are no federal elections going on, and beyond that, it is really important for us to get this really done at a time when we do not have huge immigration rhetoric going on around the nation," said Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony.
Janet Murguia, president of La Raza, the country's main Hispanic lobby group, was hopeful immigration reform would be approved during the 111th Congress that started last week.
After the November 4 general elections, Democrats are comfortably in control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The last immigration reform proposal in 2007 sailed through the House but stumbled in the Senate, where it came up one short of the required two-thirds or 60 vote majority.
Some 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, most of them from Latin America, making Hispanics the largest minority group in the country.
Living and working conditions for illegal immigrants have worsend under the strict controls and rules of the Department of Homeland Security President George W. Bush created after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In any case, "migration reform starts with President Obama's leadership," said Sharry referring to president-elect Barack Obama who will take over from Bush at the White House on January 20.
"When the president is ready, we will be ready," said National Immigration Forum director Ali Noroani also referring to Obama.
The last, failed immigration reform legislation in 2007 would have given legal status and a path to citizenship for all illegal immigrants.
Obama had been involved in negotiations over the text and immigration reform earned broad support from both Democrat Obama and Republican rival John McCain on the 2008 campaign trail.
All the rights activists concurred that Obama's economic stimulus plan will likely keep lawmakers busy in the first few months of the year.
Obama on Thursday said he wanted Congress to approve the 775-billion dollar proposal as quickly as possible.
While an economic crisis is not the best time to present a substantial immigration reform package, Sharry said, "legalizing workers will increase wages, increase the tax compliance of the workers and the employers who hire them and it would restore the rule of law."
The latest immigration bill failed largely because of widespread disagreement among its sponsors, the rights activists concurred at the telephone press conference.
Murguia said a lot of the work for immigration reform has already been completed inside and outside Congress.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid on Wednesday presented his legislative agenda for the new Congress and said immigration reform was one of its top ten priorities.
Since we are in a vacuum now with the immigration reform," said Mahony, "what is happening is that all this piecemeal that is being passed all across the country by cities, counties, states, is extremely unhelpful.
"It is creating division and fear."

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