Lawmakers, Americans split on immigration

SUSAN C. INGRAM
Community Times
April 5, 2006

Inside: Report shows divide over immigration issues
More protests planned in response to HR 4437

StatueofLiberty2
Statue of Liberty/NPS photo

The Statue of Liberty, for 120 years a welcoming symbol to the foreign-born looking for a better way of life, may soon be snuffing out her guiding torch and replacing it with a stop sign. At least if some anti-immigration advocates have their way.

The Maryland General Assembly and the U.S. Congress in recent months have wrestled with immigration proposals that range from fortifying borders to denying drivers’ licenses to non-citizens.

In Annapolis this session, a handful of bills died in committee that would have affected undocumented immigrants’ ability to work, obtain a driver’s license or collect workers’ compensation.

However, a bill to help legal immigrants secure health care passed the House on March 24 and went to a Senate hearing Tuesday.

The measure, sponsored by Delegate Victor R. Ramirez (D-47th), would put at least $3 million in the FY2008 budget for health care services for the children of legal immigrants and pregnant women.

Another Ramirez bill would allow children of undocumented immigrants who attend and graduated from Maryland high schools to pay resident tuition at the state’s public colleges. That bill is still in committee.

Ramirez, who was born in El Salvador, represents Prince George’s County, which has more than 100,000 foreign-born residents, about 14 percent of the county population.

Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-10th), who co-sponsored the Ramirez health care and tuition bills, was born in Jamaica. She came to the U.S. in 1960 and became a citizen five years later.

She said many women come to this country legally but have trouble accessing health care and health insurance.

House Bill 89 replaces money in the budget that was cut and helps fill Medicare funding gaps for some women and children who are permanent legal residents.

“It’s for $3 million,” said Nathan-Pulliam. “It’s better than nothing, and at least we have that back.”

Nathan-Pulliam, who represents the Liberty Road corridor, recently supported federal legislation to allow foreign-born U.S. military personnel to gain their citizenship more quickly.

“The system has been broken for so long,” she said.

That issue came to the fore in October, when 19-year-old Army Reservist Kendell K. Frederick, of Randallstown, was killed while on duty in Iraq. He was born in Trinidad and was trying to complete his citizenship paperwork.

Nathan-Pulliam said she isn’t surprised by the recent surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

“There has always been anti-immigrant sentiment,” she said. “When you see the marches and the hundreds of thousand of immigrants, it probably becomes even more frightening for some people.”

Nathan-Pulliam said she remembers being involved in the years-long process to become a legal immigrant.

“The problem here is illegal immigration,” she said. “But when people have no food, no money – we’re humans – they’ll survive by any means necessary. I understand how it happens.”

According to 2003 U.S. Census figures, about 33.5 million people in the United States are foreign-born. About half of them are from Latin America. A quarter of them are from Asia. About 14 percent are from Europe, and the remaining 8 percent were born elsewhere.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates 11.5 million to 12 million “unauthorized migrants” in the United States.

Meanwhile, several measures in Congress are fueling the immigration debate.

Legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and co-sponsored by five Democrats and four Republicans, is being touted as a more liberal response to immigration reform than a House measure that sparked nationwide protests.

McCain’s bill includes improving aerial border surveillance, creating an “essential worker” visa program and promoting access to health care for undocumented people. Undocumented workers could also stay in the country and work toward citizenship.

Opponents have decried McCain’s measure as “amnesty,” saying that people here illegally should not be allowed to stay permanently and should return to their home countries to begin the citizenship process.

U.S. Sen. William H. Frist’s “Securing America’s Borders Act” would levy new penalties on employers that hire undocumented workers and increase the number of green cards but does not include a guest-worker program.

The House measure passed in December was the catalyst for protests by workers and students who say its hard-line approach criminalizes people and those who aid them. It also proposes a vast fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think we need to lobby to kill that resolution,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “We’re definitely against making them felons.”

For more information on congressional bills, go to http://www.congress.gov. For Maryland legislation, go to http://www.mlis.state.md.us.

Report shows divide over immigration issues

The divide in legislative bodies over immigration reform mirrors differences in the country over what immigration policy should be.

A report last week by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 52 percent of Americans perceive immigrants as a “burden” who take jobs and housing, although 41 percent believe immigrants “strengthen” the nation.

And while 53 percent of Americans polled want those here illegally to return to their native countries, 40 percent believe they should be allowed to stay through temporary worker programs or permanently.

The study found “roughly half of Americans (49 percent) say increasing the penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants would be most effective in reducing illegal cross-border immigration, while a third prefer boosting the number of border patrol agents.”

Only 9 percent said building more fences between Mexico and the U.S. would be the best way to reduce illegal immigration.

For more information on the immigration study, go to http://www.pewhispanic.org.

More protests planned in response to HR 4437

Following up protests held across the country last week, including one in Los Angeles that drew more than 500,000 people, the National Capital Immigration Coalition is calling for an immigrant rights rally on April 10 at 4 p.m. at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., opposing House Resolution 4437, which is sponsored by Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.

The 256-page bill, titled “Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,” includes increasing to a felony the penalty for people in the country illegally; listing immigration violators in the National Crime Information Center database; requiring mandatory detention for illegal immigrants; requiring the secretary of homeland security to install two layers of reinforced fencing along hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border; establishing a border patrol unit in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We are calling on all immigrants and friends to stop Congress from criminalizing 11 million immigrants, women, men and children,” reads the flyer for the rally.

CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy organization, is supporting the protest.

In addition, some immigrant advocacy groups are calling for a national strike or boycott on May 1, called “El Gran Paro Americano 2006” or “The Great American Boycott 2006.”

The boycott is intended to illustrate the impact of immigrant workers on the U.S. economy.

– Community Times

Casa de Maryland posted this story:
http://cdm.nonprofitsoapbox.com/news-archive/394-04052006

 

 

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