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Old 03-27-2006, 07:51 AM   #1
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"A Civil Rights Movement Reborn": Immigration Debate Heats Up In Senate

Groundswell of Protests Back Illegal Immigrants

The New York Times, March 27, 2006

When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee meet today to wrestle with the fate of more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, they can expect to do so against a backdrop of thousands of demonstrators, including clergy members wearing handcuffs and immigrant leaders in T-shirts that declare, "We Are America."

Rallies in support of immigrants around the country have attracted crowds that have astonished even their organizers. More than a half-million demonstrators marched in Los Angeles on Saturday, as many as 300,000 in Chicago on March 10, and in between, tens of thousands in Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee and elsewhere.

One of the most powerful institutions behind the wave of public protests has been the Roman Catholic Church, lending organizational muscle to a spreading network of grass-roots coalitions. In recent weeks, the church has unleashed an army of priests and parishioners to push for the legalization of the nation's illegal immigrants, sending thousands of postcards to members of Congress and thousands of parishioners into the streets.

The demonstrations embody a surging constituency demanding that illegal immigrants be given a path to citizenship rather than be punished with prison terms. It is being pressed as never before by immigrants who were long thought too fearful of deportation to risk so public a display. "It's unbelievable," said Partha Banerjee, director of the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network. "People are joining in so spontaneously, it's almost like the immigrants have risen. I would call it a civil rights movement reborn in this country."

What has galvanized demonstrators, especially Mexicans and other Latin Americans who predominate among illegal immigrants, is proposed legislation—already passed by the House of Representatives—that would make it a felony to be in the United States without proper papers, and a federal crime to aid illegal immigrants. Under the House measure, family members of illegal immigrants—as well as clergy members, social workers and lawyers—would risk up to 5 years in prison if they helped an illegal immigrant remain in the United States. But the proposed measure also shows the clout of another growing force that elected officials have to reckon with: a groundswell of anger against illegal immigration that is especially potent in border states and swing-voting suburbs where the numbers and social costs of illegal immigrants are most acutely felt.

"It's an entirely predictable example of the law of unintended consequences," said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, who helped organize the Chicago rally and who said he was shocked by the size of the turnout. "The Republican party made a decision to use illegal immigration as the wedge issue of 2006, and the Mexican community was profoundly offended."

Until the wave of immigration rallies, the campaign by groups demanding stringent enforcement legislation seemed to have the upper hand in Washington. The Judiciary Committee was deluged by faxes and e-mail messages from organizations like NumbersUSA, which calls for a reduction in immigration, and claims 237,000 activists nationwide, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has long opposed any form of amnesty, including a guest-worker program advocated by President Bush.

Bush planned to use a naturalization ceremony for swearing in 30 new citizens Monday to press his call for the guest-worker program. "We must remember there are hardworking individuals, doing the jobs that Americans will not do, who are contributing to the economic vitality of our country," the President said in his weekend radio address.

Dan Stein, president of FAIR, acknowledged the unexpected outpouring of protesters, but tried to play down its political significance. "These are a lot of people who don't vote, can't vote and certainly aren't voting Republican if they do vote," he said. But others, noting that foreign-born Latinos voted for President Bush in 2004 at a 40% greater rate than Latinos born in the United States, said that by pursuing the proposed legislation, Republican leaders might have squandered the party's inroads with an emerging bloc of voters and pushed them into the Democratic camp.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said Monday it would be unrealistic to round up and deport the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Instead, he told CBS' "The Early Show," the United States should create a "path toward legalization" based on whether the immigrants are law-abiding, pay taxes, are learning English or demonstrate other "positive behavior."

In a telephone briefing sponsored last week by the National Immigration Forum, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Association of Evangelicals, warned that elected officials would pay a price for being on the wrong side of the legislative battle. "We are talking to the politicians telling them that the Hispanic community will not forget," he said. "I know there are pure hearts that want to protect our border and protect our country, but at the same time the Hispanic community cannot deny the fact that many have taken advantage of an important and legitimate issue in order to manifest their racist and discriminatory spirit against the Hispanic community."

Last night in downtown Los Angeles, Fabricio Fierros, 18, the American-born son of mushroom-pickers who came to the United States illegally from Mexico, joined about 5,000 Mexican farmworkers gathered for a Mass celebrating the birthday of Cesar Chavez. "It's not fair to workers here to just kick them out without giving them a legal way to be here," Mr. Fierros said, "To be treated as criminals after all the work they did isn't fair."

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Old 03-27-2006, 09:27 AM   #2
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In Canada, we are in the early stages of awareness of this new conservative government policy as well. Harper just got in and already we're packing up hardworking, tax-paying, contributing skilled workers and families who have been here for years and sending them "back". The construction industry in the Toronto region relies heavily on these workers.

Yet I don't see them rounding up criminals who are here illegally - they are just targeting the more honest people because they're easy to find and deport to satisfy immigration department quotas. I also wouldn't be surprised if our immigration department is still trafficking sex-trade workers from eastern Europe.


Deal with illegals, readers say
It's 'low-priority' for government
Mar. 26, 2006. 08:07 AM

Today marks the end of the line for the Ferreira family. With all avenues to stay in Canada exhausted — all those the family was ill advised to try — Joe, Elizabeth and their children, 18 and 21, are expected to board a flight to Portugal. The family lost a gamble that began when they decided to stay in Toronto illegally after a 1999 vacation, thereby embarking on a doomed dialogue with Immigration Canada from their place in the underground economy.

Theirs is an unfortunate tale and a cautionary one for those who spend thousands of dollars on bad-apple immigration consultants who advise (as in this case) to apply as political refugees from a country with a good human rights record. And they're not alone. As the Star reported last week, scores of other illegal immigrants, many of whom have worked for years in Canada, have received recent deportation notices in what is perceived to be a new climate of "rush, rush, rush" to get them out of Canada.

It's an issue that provokes strong opinions. The Star asked its online readers last week whether illegal immigrants "working in areas of labour shortage" should be given amnesty and the response was great. Respondents were split roughly down the middle, with slightly more arguing against amnesty — "What part of `illegal' do these people not get?" — than those who support the concept.

Many people sympathetic to the Ferreiras perceive a certain irony in years of paying taxes while being nudged out of the country. Some criticized a shift in thinking under "Heartless Harper," as one reader called new Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Others stressed that the role of undocumented workers in the underground economy is well established — the oil essential to a smooth-running machine. Noted one reader: "If it weren't for the Italians and Portuguese, where would the construction industry be now?"

What's interesting about these letters is that, whatever the viewpoint, they are thoughtful and well argued. People took time from busy lives to express their opinions. That, sadly, appears to be a distinct improvement on the record of the federal government in coming to grips with core immigration issues, despite criticism of the system over the years by, among others, Canada's own immigration ministers.

Nothing came of former immigration minister Joe Volpe's pledge to find a way to "regularize" undocumented workers. He ruled out blanket amnesty last year but promised to take other options to his Liberal cabinet colleagues. And, while Tory Immigration Minister Monte Solberg has been on the job only two months, it was not promising last week when he said that Volpe's red-flagged issue had "low priority" for his government.

Why is that? Canadians seem to think it's important, as evidenced by the letters to the Star. So do academics. At universities across Canada, ideas for reform percolate among professors who are frustrated with problems with an immigration system that seem important only when a case like the Ferreiras' hits the news.

Moreover, the underground economy and the relevant contribution of undocumented workers are real issues in Canada. Last year, the Canada Tax Journal reported the underground economy had grown from 3.46 per cent of GDP in 1976 to 15.64 per cent in 1995. It's not known how much of that growth is tied to illegal immigrants (as opposed to unreported labour by citizens and legal immigrants) but it might be an idea to find out, or at least get a clearer sense of the number of undocumented workers than Volpe's estimate last year of from 10,000 to 120,000 nation-wide.

Granted, the underground economy in Canada pales in comparison to the United States. It's estimated that 4 million people illegally cross the U.S.-Mexican border alone every year, with 25-30 per cent caught and deported by U.S. authorities.

The U.S. Congress is working to reform immigration laws. The public perception, buttressed by support in the House of Representatives for a fence along the Mexican border, is that Americans vigorously oppose all forms of undocumented labour. But that may not be the case, according to Harvard economist Ray Fisman. He argues that the reality is more "don't ask, don't tell." Americans understand the importance of off-the-books labour, he said.

"After all, you have to keep the kitchens running in New York City."

At home, Albert Berry, a developmental economist at the University of Toronto, finds "immigration issues to be one of the most controversial in our society," and finds it frustrating politicians aren't more attentive.

He thinks that immigration regulations are too often "cumbersome" and outdated, filling economic needs in society from a decade or more ago. There is a lack of planning. He says there are not enough on-the-ground experts in countries of origin, that people aren't given enough information about immigration and that too many political appointees are making the decisions. He said the problem is that "we don't spend enough money to create a system that works fluidly."

While economists differ on the contribution of undocumented workers, they are unanimous in calling for serious debate on the issue and clear policies.

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Old 03-27-2006, 10:53 AM   #3
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There's a huge controversy going on in Birmingham with the illegal immigrant situation. There was a Latino center in a suburb that was being used as a transportation hub for all Latino workers, including illegals. These guys were doing the work that no one would do, and they had the support of the local Catholic bishop and the whole Catholic hierarchy. The Latino center was called "The Cultural Center". About six months ago, it was closed down. The Catholic bishop wrote a polite but firm letter to the City Council of the suburb denouncing the shutdown. Hispanics in my parish were furious. I talked to my priest after mass that week and he wasn't happy. These people have got to work to support their families. It's dumb to send people who are willing to do these jobs to jail. They should become citizens.
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