10/18/2005

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform is emotional, polarizing and politically tricky as was demonstrated at a Utah forum he hosted, says Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a man hated by anti-immigration groups because he helps lead the fight for President Bush's immigration-reform proposals.

Congress is expected to debate such solutions beginning this fall, with Bush and GOP leaders vowing to pass a comprehensive reform bill within a year. Many states are not waiting for a federal solution and are pushing ahead with steps of their own. For example, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently declared a state of emergency in four counties along the border because of violence, drug smuggling and increased numbers of undocumented immigrants. It allowed him to free up extra money for everything from fighting drug smuggling to beefing up state border security. Also, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. pledged, in a recent visit with Mexico President Vicente Fox, to take a lead with the help of the Western Governors Association to find solutions to immigration issues.

At least 100 bills, designed to solve various aspects of immigration problems, have been introduced in Congress so far this year. Leaders have vowed to try to pass one big comprehensive reform bill within a year. Vowing to pass such a bill is ambitious since voter are going very weak of empty promises.

One idea is to match foreign workers with employers who cannot find U.S. labor to fill their jobs. It would allow aliens, including those already here illegally, to apply for a renewable, legal stay for a certain period. The period varies among proposals between three and six years. Bush has said if foreigners had such a program available, he believes most would enter legally for a time, save up money and then return home. But staying permanently and earning citizenship could also be allowed. Critics say it may simply lead more businesses to seek cheap foreign labor.

Congressman Chris Cannon believes most people want illegals to be able to earn legal status and maybe even citizenship. They also want a system that would allow needed workers to enter the U.S. temporarily. Cannon said discussion among congressional members also indicates that most want to ensure reform will recognize that "being here illegally will not get you at the head of the line for citizenship over those who come later" legally. In short, undocumented aliens would start at the back of the line whenever they come forward to seek legal status.

Some reform already has arrived. Earlier this year, Congress tacked many immigration reforms onto the end of a military spending bill. That included prohibiting states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens; making driver's licenses more counterfeit-proof; making it easier for the Homeland Security Department to waive all legal requirements in order to build barriers along the Mexican border; and making it easier to exclude or deport anyone deemed to be supporting terrorism.

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