- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Labor and Hispanic groups yesterday told senators to scrap their immigration bill and go back to the drawing board, saying that the proposal now before the Senate has become too harsh on illegal aliens and a poor deal for U.S. workers.

In separate press conferences, the Hispanic rights groups and labor leaders, including the AFL-CIO, joined a growing group of critics from both the left and the right who say current law is better than the immigration bill that President Bush and a small bipartisan group of senators are pushing.

“This takes a problem we have and, instead of solving it, makes it worse,” said Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. He said the temporary-worker program that the bill sets up would hurt U.S. workers by providing a source of cheap labor that would depress Americans’ wages.

Meanwhile from the immigrant-advocacy side, a handful of Hispanic groups yesterday said the Senate bill started off poorly, became worse after the first two weeks of amendments and is now unfixable.

“Let’s go back to the drawing board,” said Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, president of the Hispanic Federation.

That Senate bill collapsed two weeks ago when Republicans and Democrats demanded more time to try to pass amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, moved last night to revive the bill, taking the first step to schedule a vote to force the bill back onto the floor.

The bill would combine legalization and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens with a guest-worker program for future foreign workers and a point system for future immigration that gives greater weight to people with needed skills or education.

But opposition appears to have grown among voters, and a poll released earlier this week by Democratic strategists warned that Republicans can have success attacking Democrats on some parts of the immigration bill.

Also, a new evaluation released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) yesterday found that the Senate bill would reduce family-based immigration from about two-thirds of current permanent visas to less than half. Employment-based visas would go from less than one-fifth to about two-fifths.

The MPI evaluation said the new point system called for in the bill would also shift the profile of new legal immigrants away from Latin American and Caribbean countries and toward Asian countries, particularly India, China and the Philippines, where recent immigrants have had better English skills and higher educational attainment.

The Hispanic groups said there is no reason to change the current system, which favors family reunification, and said there is no clamor for the point system.

“It’s important for us to be able to walk away from a bad bill, and that’s what we’re asking Congress to do,” said Brent A. Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

The Hispanic groups fired off a letter to Mr. Reid telling him to scrap the current bill and instead pass a series of smaller bills.

Among the small bills they said could pass are a new agriculture jobs program for future foreign workers and a bill to legalize illegal alien college students and allow them in-state tuition at public universities. They said they were counting on Mr. Reid to block attempts to move enforcement-only bills.

Some House Democrats and Republicans have also said they want to break the immigration issue up into smaller bills — the opposite of the approach from senators and Mr. Bush, who say enforcement, agriculture and student programs must be tied to legalization and a guest-worker program.

But Hispanic rights groups are not united on the issue.

A group of immigrants and immigrant rights activists rallied outside of the Capitol yesterday calling for a broad bill rather than splitting it into parts.

“Last year, all these bills were terrible. This year, there are things we can live with,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat, who spoke at the rally. He said in a meeting of Democrats in California’s congressional delegation, every member supported the broad approach that included legalization.

Immigrant rights groups also disagree over whether to scrap the process, with several prominent groups arguing it is better to pass something out of the Senate and then try to alter it in the House or in a later conference committee between the two chambers.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said the administration still expects to have the votes to pass the bill after “a pretty vigorous fight” over amendments in the Senate.

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