by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Political experts say no issue cuts to the quick like immigration in the coming presidential election. While the Republican hardliners are fighting illegal immigration as hard as they can, the Democrats are stressing that a comprehensive immigration reform program will be the top agenda of a Democratic presidency.
The issue is even dividing the Republicans. As Arizona Sen. John McCain takes the lead in many states, immigration hardliners are wrestling with the possibility that the man they call “Mr. Amnesty” (McCain has reportedly favored giving a path to citizenship to the country’s illegal immigrants) will be the Republican presidential nominee.
It seems the choice between a Republican and a Democrat rests on the issue of immigration. If a Republican will favor immigration reforms, he is no different from a Democrat. “I might as well vote for Hillary,” Jim Gilchrist, founder of an anti-illegal immigration group, the Minuteman Project, said. On the possibility of a McCain presidency, Gilchrist joked, “I’ve already made my plans to emigrate to Australia.”
Definitely, the immigration issue is no joking matter. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the hardliner group, Center for Immigration Studies, said in a report that “I think there’s going to be a lot of Republicans who are simply not going to vote with him (McCain) because of this. They’re not going to campaign for him.”
McCain was part of the bipartisan coalition that tried to pass amnesty legislation in 2006 and 2007. In 2006 he voted in favor of S. 2611, legislation that would reward 10 to 11 million illegals with amnesty if they apply for legal status and pay a $2,000 fine.
He was also a co-sponsor of S. 774, the DREAM Act, that will supposedly provide in-state tuition for students who are not legal residents. How do the other presidential hopefuls plan to tackle this most important issue?
During the Democratic primary forum in Aug. 2007, Democrat Senator Barack Obama said “I think it’s possible for us to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. That’s what we’ve always been and that’s what we have to continue to be. And that’s why I’ve worked in the Senate and will work hard as president to make sure that we’ve got comprehensive immigration reform that has strong border security. We need to make sure that it’s orderly, that we don’t have thousands of people pouring over our borders or overstaying our visas.”
Obama also proposes giving immigrants, who are here, a rigorous path to citizenship.
“We want to have a situation in which those who are already here, are playing by the rules. [They should be] willing to pay a fine and go through a rigorous process [and] should have a pathway to legalization. Most Americans will support that if they have some sense that the border is also being secured. What they don’t want is a situation in which there is a pathway to legalization and you’ve got another several hundred thousand of folks coming in every year. That is a central position we should be able to arrive at,” he said.
Senator Hillary Clinton shares Obama’s views on the issue. “I am proud of America’s commitment to welcoming immigrants. We are all immeasurably enriched by the contributions of immigrants who have come to this country to find the American dream through their hard work. Our immigration system is broken, and it is past time that we came together and implemented an effective policy which respects our immigrant heritage, the rule of law, and human dignity. That is what I am committed to achieving.”
“A comprehensive solution to our immigration crisis must include strengthening our borders, greater cooperation with our neighbors, strict but fair enforcement of our laws, federal assistance to state and local governments, strict penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers, and a path to earned legal status for those who are here, working hard, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar, including learning English. The solution must also protect the sanctity of families and repair the broken, unfair bureaucratic system that forces citizens and lawful immigrants to live apart from their spouses and children,” Clinton said.
Clinton was a strong supporter of the efforts to negotiate a comprehensive immigration reform package in the last two sessions of Congress. In 2007, she introduced a bipartisan measure to reunite hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents in this country with their spouses and minor children. She also led efforts for the Immigrant Children’s Health Improvement Act, championed the Access to Employment and English Acquisition Act, and co-sponsored the DREAM Act, which makes it possible for hardworking young people to attend college.
The other strong Republican contender, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, is less liberal on the issue. “I like legal immigration. I think having people come here from other countries with their skill and education enhances America. But I want to stop illegal immigration. I want to secure the border,” Romney said.
Asked to comment on an immigration bill the Senate could debate, Romney said he doesn’t agree with some part of the bill. “There’s something I don’t like in the bill,” Romney said. “There’s something called a Z visa and the idea behind the Z visa is everybody who’s here illegally today is given a Z visa that allows them to stay here for the rest of their lives. But that strikes me as being amnesty and [I find it]unfair.”
Another Republican nominee is a conservative hardliner, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. The Baptist minister pledges to complete the border fence by July 2010 and rules out a pathway to citizenship for people currently in the United States illegally without first returning to their country of origin.
Huckabee said immigrants who do not register within 120 days with Citizenship and Immigration Services and leave the country will be barred from re-entry for 10 years if they do try to apply for legal citizenship. He also pledged to complete a border fence and install an interlocking camera surveillance system by July 1, 2010 and said he would increase the number of border patrol agents. Employers who hire illegal immigrants would also be subject to penalties. Huckabee’s plan, however, includes an increase in the number of visas for “highly-skilled and highly-educated applicants.”
Legal immigrants to the United States are now at their highest level ever, with over 35 million legal immigrants as of 2006. This accounts for more than 10% of the US current population. Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1 million per year, of whom about 600,000 are change-of-status immigrants who already are in the US.
Illegal immigration may be as high as 1.5 million per year with a net of at least 700,000 illegal immigrants arriving each year to join the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants that are already here.
The Philippines is the third top migrant-sending country in 2006, with 74,607 Filipino immigrants coming into the US that year, next to Mexico (173,753), and the People’s Republic of China (87,345).