By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Immigrant rights groups are gearing up for what is sure to be a heated battle in Washington over comprehensive immigration reform.
Groups gathered in community centers, churches, restaurants, union halls and living rooms across the nation and in Colorado Wednesday night to participate in a national teleconference town hall on immigration reform. The event included Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who has outlined a series of core principles that he says should be part of a comprehensive reform effort.
At the heart of the battle is finding a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Fueling the debate is remarks by White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who stated last week their commitment to reform, signaling a push for legislation.
“Here in Colorado, we demonstrated that communities across Colorado are informed, engaged and taking action to support comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2010 that supports families, provides a path to legal status, and protects workers,” said Julie Gonzales, state director of the Reform Immigration for America campaign.
Doubt still lingers as to whether Congress will want to tackle the issue, as lawmakers are already facing historical health care reform and controversial energy issues. Some analysts say the legislation will likely be postponed until after mid-term elections next November.
But the White House is calling for immigration reform efforts to begin as early as the beginning of next year. Napolitano has called for a “three-legged stool” approach that includes tougher enforcement of immigration laws, including a crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers; a streamlined system for legal immigration; and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this year, President Obama had signaled his support for immigration reform. But then in August, Obama said during remarks in Mexico that immigration reform would have to take a back seat to health care and energy reform efforts. His statement frustrated immigrant rights advocates.
The proposal being pushed by the White House would require undocumented immigrants to register, pay fines and back taxes, pass a criminal background check and learn English in order to become a legal citizen.
Legislation in 2007 — pushed by President George W. Bush — sought tougher border controls and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Obama supported the legislation, but Bush’s fellow Republicans in Congress killed the proposal.
Would undocumented go through process?
Critics of the reform effort doubt that many undocumented immigrants would actually go through the effort to become legal citizens. Those with criminal records, or who owe thousands of dollars in taxes likely won’t go through the process, say critics.
Stan Weekes, director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform – a group that objects to mass immigration over concerns of extreme population growth — said there are likely thousands of undocumented immigrants out there with criminal backgrounds and who don’t want to pay back taxes.
“If we granted this path to citizenship, how many of them are going to do it?” asked Weekes. “Why would they turn themselves in to get deported?”
He added that many undocumented immigrants are not in the country because they want to be here, but because economic conditions back home are so bad that they are forced to come to America to earn money to send back to family members back home. Many won’t go through the trouble of becoming citizens because they plan on leaving America once they’ve raised enough money to feel comfortable, said Weekes.
“In reality, it really doesn’t solve the problem for America — it solves the problem for some individuals who are in the country illegally, but it doesn’t solve the immigration problem for America,” he said. “It’s not the be all, end all — it’s a lie to the American public to say this is a solution.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters