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Immigration Legislation at the Forefront for the Month of May

April 30, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

It’s May Day: a huge day for the labor movement and immigrants’ rights, and the first day of the month that comprehensive immigration reform legislation is expected to see floor time in Congress.

Immigration is a major issue for the users of OpenCongress. Since the site launched, “immigration” has continually been, by far, the most commonly searched-for term. This tendency is of course indicative of the big picture. Americans everywhere have immigration issues on their minds. For the past couple of months, ramped-upimmigration raids have been all over the news. Television shows and magazines have continually participated in the immigration discourse. And for 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S., the national debate over the immigration “crisis” holds such pervasive concerns as their families livelihood and childrens’ education in the palm of its hand.

Last year, more than a million people protested across the country in support of immigrant’s rights. In wake of the protests, comprehensive immigration legislation nearly made its way through Congress last year. However, at the last minute, Republicans, who were then in the majority, decided to only take up immigration legislation that dealt exclusively with border security. They went on to approve a bill to construct 700 miles of fence along the Mexico-U.S. border.

With Democrats now in control of Congress, there is new hope that a comprehensive plan for immigration will be approved this year. However, lawmakers have yet to come to an agreement on a bill and time is running out quickly; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) has reserved the last two weeks of May to take up immigration legislation. If Republicans and Democrats can’t come to an agreement before then, the chance of an immigration bill passing is slim.

Immigration is a rare issue where President Bush seems to side more with Democrats than with Republicans. So, unlike most other priorities of the Democratic leadership, if they can pass an immigration bill, the President is unlikely to veto it.

The hypothetical immigration bill (one has yet to be introduced in the Senate despite request) will likely affect several areas of policy, enhancing border security, establishing a guestworker program, and creating a path to citizenship plan for illegal immigrants who are currently in the country. It is this last policy that lawmakers can’t seem to agree on.

President Bush has described his plan to deal with illegal immigrants as “without amnesty and without animosity.” It could be a tough balance to strike, but a wise one to strive for if Bush and immigration-reform-minded lawmakers are serious about passing a bill. Many congressional Republicans have charged that the path to citizenship plan championed by President Bush and Democrats (although there are differences between the two) amounts to no more than amnesty. They claim that any plan to allow illegal immigrants to become naturalized citizens would simply “reward lawbreakers.” However, some on the other side of the debate claim that Bush’s path to citizenship plan is too tough on illegal immigrants. Among other things, the plan calls for them to pay large fees, which, for many illegal immigrants, is simply not possible.

The fact that there are two extremes at the opposite ends of disagreement with the path to citizenship plan may not be as bad of a sign as it seems. It means that the bill could play out a lot like the recently-passed Iraq supplemental, barely squeezing through Congress without a vote to spare. It’s all a matter of finding that sweet spot where what the bill has to offer is just good enough to be irresistible to just the right amount of lawmakers.

A couple of aspects of the path to citizenship plan that can be adjusted in order to round up votes include a requirement that illegal immigrants leave the country before re-entering and the amount of the fees that they would have to pay. Small adjustments such as the amount of time that illegal immigrants would be required to remain outside the country before re-entering legally, could make a difference of several votes in either direction. Likewise with the fee amounts.

Like last year, there will be immigrants’ rights protests all over the country. Check out the details for protests at a city near you here.

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