Saturday, April 16, 2005


William Fisher

Three quarters of American voters “support comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform proposal that combines toughness, fairness, a guest worker program, family reunification, and a path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants who are already here”, according to results of an opinion poll conducted by two leading immigration advocacy groups.

Sponsors of the survey, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the National Immigration Forum, said, “Americans understand that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. We cannot continue with the status quo.”

Judith Golub, Senior Director of Advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, declared, “We decided to see what the American people really thought about immigration given all the heat and noise portrayed in the media. The opinion research confirmed what we thought -- that American voters are ready for comprehensive immigration reform. We hope that the President and the Congress follow the American people's lead and put something concrete into action soon.”

AILA said in a statement, “The public supports the kind of reform promoted by President Bush and Congressional leaders, not the extreme proposals from the anti-immigrant lobby. Such reform will create a safe, orderly, and legal system – one that is characterized by just and reasonable rules, consistent with basic American values of fairness and equal treatment under the law. Our current system keeps families separated for long periods of time, makes it difficult for U.S. businesses to employ needed workers, and forces people to live underground, fearful that our government will separate them from their families and jobs. The current enforcement system fails to prevent illegal immigration and wastes precious resources that should be spent on enhancing our security on stopping hard-working people from filling our labor market needs.”

Among the survey’s key findings:

Support for (a Bush-style) proposal is solid across party, regional and demographic lines.

Voters support each component of the proposal as well as the overall package.

Support for the proposal holds firm after voters hear positive and negative messages.

Most voters do not base their support for political candidates on the immigration issue. However, even those that do are solidly in favor of this immigration reform proposal.

Over two thirds of all voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports this type of immigration proposal.

Voters overwhelmingly believe the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. They want a controlled system that would replace an illegal immigration flow with a legal immigration flow.

The vast majority of voters believe that deporting the 10 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States is unrealistic.

More than 8 in 10 believe that if an immigrant has been in this country working, paying taxes, and learning English, there should be a way for them to become a citizen.

These poll results, based on a telephone survey of 800 likely voters nationwide, appear to indicate that most American voters reject the piecemeal approach contained in the so-called REAL I.D. bill. That bill passed the House of Representatives and is now awaiting action by the Senate.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, wants his bill attached to a massive “must pass” spending measure now wending its way through the Senate. The bill would provide support for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and help for tsunami victims.

But Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist appears to be resisting this move, and President Bush is also saying he prefers a more comprehensive approach to the whole immigration issue.

The REAL I.D. Act would establish stronger security standards for the issuance of drivers’ licenses, including proof of lawful presence in the U.S. All states would be required to comply, to “eliminate weak links in domestic identity security.” It would also set up tough physical security requirements to reduce counterfeiting, have drivers’ licenses expire when an alien’s visa expires, and close the three-mile hole in the fortified U.S./Mexico border fence near San Diego, California.

The bill also contains asylum provisions that have drawn fire from human rights organizations. These would tighten the asylum system, which Rep. Sensenbrenner says have been “abused by terrorists”, allow immigration judges to determine witness credibility in asylum cases, and keep terrorists out of U.S. by making all terrorism-related grounds of inadmissibility causes for deportation.

Mark Dow, author of "American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons", said, "Sensenbrenner continues the congressional tradition of targeting genuine asylum-seekers to score rhetorical points against terrorists. He is simply unconcerned with the damage that his political maneuvering may do to human beings and their families."

Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), declared, “It is deeply unfortunate that Chairman Sensenbrenner has made his top priority an unwarranted attack on immigrants and would even consider attaching such divisive ‘poison pill’ provisions to critical ‘must-pass’ legislation such as the Tsunami relief bill or supplemental funding for the troops in Iraq.”

Most of the Sensenbrenner immigration provisions were included in the House version of the Intelligence Reorganization Act at the end of 2004, but were removed because of strong opposition from the Senate and the White House. The intelligence measure enacted into law many of the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission.

Rep. Sensenbrenner rejects the idea of putting the President’s proposals and his own together. He believes Congress should act first to prevent illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses and pass other immigration restrictions. "I think it's important to get this legislation enacted and we ought to divide the debate between security and immigration. If we mix the two, the word will get out that immigrants are a security threat," Sensenbrenner said.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, said, “The federal government must prove it can protect the nation's borders before Congress can pass a guest-worker program. He vowed that the House will insist that the emergency war-spending bill contain the immigration security provisions that passed in the chamber.

Thus, House Republicans and some conservative Democrats appear to be on a collision course with much of the Senate as well as the White House.