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Immigration Reform Is in Sight, Say Advocates

Vida En El Valle, News Report, Juan Esparza Loera Posted: Jan 29, 2009

Pro-immigrant advocates believe the Obama administration will have a window of opportunity between this September and March 2010 to shepherd a comprehensive immigration package that will provide a path to legalization for an estimated 12 million undocumented residents, strengthen border security and help the ailing economy.

Part of their optimism is attributed to the large Latino vote that broke for Barack Obama by a 2-to-1 ratio in key states like Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.

"Obama has made clear a campaign commitment to address this in his first year (in office), and we plan to hold him accountable," said Janet Murgua, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza.

"The election created a very new understanding of how immigration plays in our political arena," said Murgua, one of five immigration advocates who participated in a telephonic briefing earlier this month."

Murgua said voters turned candidates who favor enforcement-only methods into "distinct minorities."
Not so fast, says Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The national organization favors enforcement of immigration laws, including workplace regulations, as a disincentive for undocumented immigration.

"What we need is enforcement against employers to hire (undocumented workers)," said Mehlman in a telephone interview. "The collapse of the economy has done some of that."

When there is no work available for undocumented workers, the flow of undocumented immigrants will slow to a trickle, he said.

The election, said Mehlman, did not give Obama a mandate for comprehensive immigration reform.
"Republicans certainly got slammed hard in this recent election, largely because the public held the Bush administration accountable for the economy," said Mehlman.

Democratic gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections came in districts that were competitive, he added.
"I'm not sure if any of those folks want to go back to voters in 2010 with the economy bad and say to voters, 'We didn't do much to fix the economy, but we passed amnesty for 13 million (undocumented) immigrants," said Mehlman.

Murgua believes the Latino vote has shifted the political wind in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that sputtered in 2007. That belief was shared by America's Voice executive director Frank Sharry, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and John Wilhelm, president/hospitality industry of the union group Unite Here.

"Elections matter, and it needed to be proven to the political class that swing voters want a solution, Latino/immigrant voters want respect, and, opponents of (immigration) reform as voters make a lot of noise but don't have a lot of juice," said Sharry. "The election and the effort that went to mobilize voters shifted the landscape."

But first, say immigrant advocates, Obama must focus on an economic stimulus plan. Immigration reform will play a role in the country's recovery, they said.

"I don't believe it is possible to fix the American economy without fixing immigration reform," said Wilhelm. "We will not be able to create the kinds of good jobs that support families and communities unless we put all of those who work in this country on an equal footing."

Sharry said studies show legalization of undocumented immigrants support Wilhelm's thinking.

American workers saw their wages go up 14 percent in five years shortly after the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed in 1986.

Mahony said handling immigration reform on a "piecemeal fashion" will not work. "They are extremely unhelpful," said Mahony. "We cannot have immigration reform taking place at the local level."

Mehlman remains skeptical that comprehensive immigration reform will occur, largely because of the slumping economy.

Related Articles:

Immigration Reform: Yes we Can?

Barack is My Leader, but Not My President

Immigrant Activists March on ICE on Day After Inauguration

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