- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Immigrant-advocacy groups plan to rally Saturday on the National Mall to demand more provisions in pending federal legislation to help the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States.

The National Capital Immigrant Coalition will stage the rally as House and Senate lawmakers return to Capitol Hill to resume debates over a proposed immigration-reform bill and is calling for provisions that would improve worker rights and keep illegal aliens and their families together.

“The interesting thing is neither side — whether you’re on the anti- or pro-immigration-reform side — is very happy, which, to me, says there’s still room for some negotiations,” said coalition Chairman Jaime Contreras. “We’re optimistic, but we can’t totally agree with the compromise as it stands.”

The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 would allow illegal aliens to receive probationary status and eventually apply for a proposed “Z” visa, which would put them on a path to citizenship after paying fees and returning to their home countries.

The plan also includes increased border fencing and security; work-site enforcement; an immigration points system based on education, work skills and English proficiency; and a temporary-worker program. The worker program would allow foreigners to work a maximum of six years, with one-year breaks every two years during which the worker must return home.

Conservatives have criticized the proposal for its leniency toward lawbreakers, while immigration advocates say it doesn’t do enough for immigrants and their families.

“The future flow is merit-based as opposed to family-based,” Mr. Contreras said.

He also criticized the proposed fee structure, which would include a fine and processing fee potentially totaling $5,000.

“No one is saying: ‘No fines,’ but they need to be fines that are affordable,” he said.

Republican lawmakers have tagged any proposal to reward illegal aliens with a path to citizenship as “amnesty” — a term the bill’s architects and President Bush vehemently reject.

“Opponents will call anything amnesty, a blanket forgiveness for infractions,” said Daniel Griswold, director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.

Mr. Griswold said the bill is not perfect but added that “all the elements are in the compromise for successful reform.”

He said moving from a family-based immigration system to an employment-based one will better meet the country’s economic needs.

Nearly two-thirds of the more than 1.2 million immigrants who became legal permanent residents last year were granted permanent residence based on family ties, according to report from the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Immigration Statistics.

Mr. Griswold said that contrary to arguments that a temporary-worker program will create a “permanent underclass” of residents, many immigrants come to the United States seeking work.

“Those fears are unfounded,” he said. “A significant number of workers want to come here temporarily.”

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