By Maria Peña
WASHINGTON – Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, introduced Tuesday a “historic” bill for comprehensive immigration reform that would allow millions of undocumented aliens to be legalized.
During a press conference at which supporters chanted “Yes we can!” Gutierrez repeated his message that reforming the U.S. immigration system is urgent.
“We’ve waited long enough,” he said. “Just because we’ve been patient doesn’t mean we can wait forever.”
“This bill should be the immigration policy of our country...it’s not complicated. It’s pro-family, pro-jobs and pro-security,” he said of the 700-page text.
Gutierrez expressed confidence that the bill, which will probably be debated in February or March 2010, will win Republican support. For now, all 87 of his co-sponsors are Democrats.
“There is no right or wrong time (to present the bill), there’s just a moral obligation,” said Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.), leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
But Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, who in 2007 supported the failed reform, criticized in a communique that the guest-worker program included in the reform benefits only 100,000 workers a year for a period of three years.
Gutierrez said that, given the high rate of unemployment, it would be irresponsible to bring in more foreigners and that the idea is to study the labor market’s future needs.
In any case, he said, his bill aims to let U.S. workers “have the first chance” when there are jobs to fill.
The bill reflect the principles that Gutierrez proposed in October for legalizing the undocumented, heightening border security, strengthening law enforcement inside the country, and protecting jobs.
It also contemplates a system of legal verification to prevent companies from employing illegal aliens while reuniting families and integrating immigrants, legalizing certain undocumented students and regulating future waves of immigration.
The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 would allow the legalization of undocumented immigrants who, among other requirements, register with the government, pay a $500 fine and other fees, learn English and have no criminal record.
These immigrants and their families would first receive a six-year visa and later would have the chance to apply for permanent residence.
Those who lie on their Green Card applications would face up to five years in jail.
The measure has the support of unions, leading Hispanic organizations, defenders of immigrants, religious groups and several ethnic minorities.
But with equal ferocity, other groups that demand an iron fist against the undocumented renewed Tuesday their promise to keep fighting against any law that offers “amnesty” to those who break U.S. immigration laws.
If the debate on health reform is any guide, both supporters and detractors expect the immigration debate to spark the same bitterness as the failed reform of 2007.
Analysts say that while this reform has wide support among the immigrant community, it is improbable, given the polarized politics in Congress, that it will be able to get the 218 votes needed in the House of Representatives and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
It is expected that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will present his own version of immigration reform in January and that, in fact, it will be the Senate that acts first on the bill. EFE