- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Expressing frustration with the lack of action by the Obama administration and Congress, hundreds of immigration activists staged a rally Tuesday on Capitol Hill, pressing for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws to offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants living in the United States.

The event, featuring participants waving the U.S. flag and flags of several Latin American countries, coincided with the release of a new immigration-reform blueprint released by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Immigration Task Force.

Melissa Lozano, 27, who traveled from Morristown, N.J., to attend the rally and prayer vigil, said U.S. immigration policy is “a broken system that criminalizes immigrants, separates families and exploits families that are here working hard.”

But the drive for action this year could be complicated by the results of a new poll of Mexican attitudes obtained by The Washington Times, which found that a majority of Mexicans say that if the U.S. pardons illegal immigrants, it will encourage more of them to cross the border illegally and that most Mexicans think their countrymen living in the U.S. should still owe their loyalty to Mexico.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International and commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a group that favors stricter immigration limits, is being released Wednesday. It found 56 percent of Mexicans surveyed said their friends and family would be more likely to cross the border illegally if the U.S. government passes a bill to legalize those already here.

“The message is clear. No matter how they are sold to the public, amnesties don’t work,” said George W. Grayson, a CIS board member and Mexico specialist who helped craft the wording of the poll questions. “In fact, they are counterproductive because they raise expectations - and illegal migration - based on the belief that one amnesty will give rise to a second … and a third.”

Having slipped on his promise to sign an immigration bill this year, President Obama now says he wants to have that debate early in 2010.

But Mr. Gutierrez, who has taken over leadership on the issue after Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s death in August, signaled that patience among the president’s supporters is not infinite.

“Saying immigration is a priority for this administration or this Congress is not the same as seeing tangible action,” he said. “The longer we wait, the more every single piece of legislation will be obstructed by our failure to pass comprehensive reform.”

Ivonne Rivera of Washington immigrated to the United States from her native El Salvador 30 years ago and is now a U.S. citizen.

“We have a large population of people - 12 million - that have become a subculture living in the shadows, struggling in poverty and fear, and experiencing family separation,” she said at Tuesday’s rally.

But proponents of immigration reform will have to grapple with how to actually reduce future illegal immigration. Many lawmakers say they feel burned by the 1986 amnesty, which promised a one-time forgiveness in exchange for getting control of the border. Many lawmakers say the government followed through on the legalization, but not the security.

In 2007, the last time Congress debated the issue, the Congressional Budget Office said the bill that President Bush and Democratic leaders wrote would only reduce illegal immigration by about 25 percent. That bill failed to pass the Senate.

Steven A. Camarota, research director for CIS, said with one-third of Mexicans saying they know someone who lives in the U.S. already, “the social networks are already in place.”

“If you legalize folks, you generally will encourage them to come,” he said.

The CIS poll also found that 69 percent of Mexicans think their countrymen living in the U.S. should show their primary loyalty to Mexico, not the U.S. That finding could prove to be a problem for those who say immigrants need to do a better job of assimilating into the U.S.

The Zogby poll consisted of 1,004 in-person interviews of adults throughout Mexico. It was conducted in August and September. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.