January 5, 2007
Cesar Munoz Acebes -- EFE
WASHINGTON -- The battle over immigration is resuming in a U.S. Congress that is now under Democratic control, yet despite that party's generally more sympathetic stance toward immigrants, many Hispanics view the legislative session with a mixture of hope and apprehension.
The victory of the Democrats in the November elections gave hope to those people supporting regularization of the status of the some 12 million undocumented immigrants who are thought to live in this country.
In the Senate, the Democrats have included immigration reform on the list of their 10 top-priority projects, according to Federico de Jesus, the spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
They express their "commitment" to the issue, but the decision has not resulted in the setting of any time period within which to advance the proposal, De Jesus said.
In Thursday's first full Senate session, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, appealed to his colleagues "to put aside the mean-spiritedness and short-sighted policies driven by fear and recognize (that) the dignity of those whose work contributes to reinvigorating America."
"As the new Congress begins, we have a tremendous opportunity before us to enact fair, comprehensive immigration reform. It is time for bipartisan action. Accordingly, I join with senators from both sides of the aisle to call for comprehensive immigration reform and will work to enact it," he said.
Many Hispanics share those sentiments. "I hope that upon the change in power in Congress there will be reform," said Jose Garcia, a 40-year-old Honduran.
But others are more pessimistic. "I don't think it will happen soon. It's an issue that has to be discussed a lot," said Bolivian Juan Quiros, 45.
"There's a lot of hate of Hispanics," he said.
Those opposing legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants are undaunted by the beginning of Democratic control of the legislature.
Jack Martin, director of special projects for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, said in Spanish that many of the new Democrats elected to Congress opposed legalizing undocumented people during their campaigns.
Martin said that the 500,000 members of his organization nationwide will send letters to - and will telephone - their legislators to urge them not to even think about legalizing the "illegals."
He promised that "we're going to fight against amnesty," as conservative groups call it.
But the politicians also will be under pressure from another quarter. The U.S. Chamber of Congress, which with its 3 million members is the largest business federation in the world, committed itself on Thursday to use its influence to promote immigration reform that includes a guest worker program.
"Immigration reform is critical to our ability to find needed workers in the face of changing demographics," chamber president and CEO Thomas Donohue told a press conference in Washington on Thursday.
He warned that the United States needs immigrants to pay for the retirement pensions of the 77 million baby-boomers who are beginning to reach retirement age.
"People who oppose guest worker programs are as dumb as a box of rocks," Donohue said.
At the side of the chamber is a group of organizations defending immigrants - but from the point of view of human rights - such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The chairman of the conference's Migration Committee, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, said in a statement issued Thursday: "Our nation's legitimate security concerns have been distorted by some who would foment anxiety, fear and a distrust of migrants."
The two groups are ready to resume their battle where they left off last year, when one side considered the most drastic measures for restricting immigration in decades and the other pushed for regularizing the status of most of the undocumented people.
Finally, the Republicans in the House prevented the approval of any bill to get immigrants without the proper papers out of the shadows, and the only measure that arrived at the desk of President George W. Bush was one authorizing the construction of a double fence 760 miles long along the border with Mexico.
Democratic Party leaders have promised, however, that now that they are in control things will be very different.
Source: Copyright (C) 2007. Agencia EFE S.A.