Immigration Bill Uproar Continues

A portion of the controversial immigration bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives late last year that makes illegal aliens felons has sparked some of the loudest outcries in America since the invasion of Iraq.

In big cities and small towns nationwide, people have filled the streets in protest of the “Border protection, anti-terrorism and illegal immigration control act.”

If passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President George W. Bush, the new law would make illegal immigrants automatic felons and would require a minimum one-year prison sentence for immigrants who enter the U.S. without documentation.

Immigrants caught at the border would be detained while their case goes through the justice system instead of being released and given a court date, which is the current policy.

It would add 250 full-time border inspectors, increase port canine detection by 25 percent and fine employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants $5,000 for first-time offenses and $40,000 for subsequent offenses.

For people who aid in the re-entry of an illegal alien, the same one-year prison sentence would apply.

Opponents call the bill unrealistic and harsh toward unauthorized immigrants. In Oregon, generally a progressive state, two of the five representatives say it’s time to protect U.S. borders, schools and health care and crack down on those who hire illegal immigrants.

Local Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Oregon’s northeastern region representative, Greg Walden, R-Ore., joined the majority — 239 to 182 — in passing the Dec. 16 legislation.

In an opinion piece published in The Register-Guard on Feb. 8, DeFazio said he doesn’t have a “complete solution,” but he said the bill is a step toward fixing the immigration problem.

“Undocumented workers have been used and abused, driving down wages, benefits, and working conditions for all workers,” he wrote.

This is the first plausible immigration plan by Congress, DeFazio added, because employers would be penalized significantly for hiring undocumented workers and because of the increased border patrol.

DeFazio opposes blanket amnesty legislation for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here, he wrote, because it “could delay or prevent … legal immigration.” DeFazio voted for the bill mainly because of the added employer sanctions but didn’t agree with everything, such as the portion that would make it a crime for any social service or religious group to help illegal immigrants.

In his newsletter, Walden said legal immigration is undeniably valuable, but the burden on society by “those who choose to blatantly disregard our laws” is getting out of control.

“I hear regularly from schools, hospital administrators, law enforcement, government officials and a host of other citizens throughout the second district about the need to enhance border patrol and crack down on illegal immigration,” Walden wrote in the Dec. 22 newsletter. “The costs to our education, health care and criminal justice systems are overwhelming.”

Walden continued his support of the fence construction on the Texas and San Diego borders, projects that have “already resulted in drastic decreases in illegal crossings,” he wrote.

Kevin Johnson, the associate dean for Academic Affairs at the University of California, Davis law school, recently toured the U.S.-Mexico border.

A public interest law professor of Chicana/o studies, Johnson wrote in an e-mail the House bill is “unduly harsh on undocumented immigrants and those who assist them.”

The bill’s main weakness is its focus on border patrol “when there is no evidence that such changes will have any impact on the undocumented immigration population,” Johnson said. The year in prison and felony charge would not reduce illegal immigration.

“Border enforcement has increased greatly since 1994 but the undocumented population continues to increase,” Johnson continued. “We need a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform, which includes earned legalization, employment visas and other programs.”

Thousands of migrants have died as a result of being redirected from “major border hubs,” such as San Diego and El Paso, Texas, into more remote areas of the desert where patrols aren’t as strict, he said in the e-mail.

The bill passed because of frustration, he wrote, “but Congress is not yet prepared to deal with the complex issues of what brings migrants to the United States – jobs and families. Like the days of Prohibition, our immigration laws are out of synch with social, political, and economic realities and people are violating them.”

The House bill was passed to the U.S. Senate, which is currently looking at two of its own immigration bills.

It’s unlikely the Senate will pass a bill before the congressional elections this November, many say, because immigration is a hot-button issue.