Immigration Groups Slow the Push for Change

Supporters of efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration policy marched in Los Angeles last month i i

Supporters of efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration policy marched in Los Angeles last month. J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images
Supporters of efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration policy marched in Los Angeles last month

Supporters of efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration policy marched in Los Angeles last month.

J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images

The Senate's sweeping immigration bill suffered a resounding defeat last month, but that does not mean all of the ideas in it are dead. Both sides say they will push for some of the bill's measures one at a time.

Dan Kowalski edits Bender's Immigration Bulletin, a journal and Web site for immigration specialists. He says it may be just as well that the Senate's unwieldy, wide-ranging bill collapsed.

"It's likely that the smaller pieces will not only survive, but thrive," he says.

Kowalksi points out that some of the same senators who ardently opposed the bill actually support some of the bill's component parts. For example, the main sponsor of the Dream Act, which would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition so more could attend college, has been conservative Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Kowalski says there is also significant support for the bill's AgJOBS provision, which would legalize about a million farm workers. And many people favor increasing the number of visas for high-tech workers. Right now, only 65,000 visas for high-tech workers are issued each year, far below demand. This spring, the cap was reached in just one day.

"A temporary fix would be creating a cap (of) maybe 200,000 for the next couple of years," says Angelo Amador of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "But, at some point, all of these numbers need to have some resemblance to the needs of the market, so they need to be able to go up or down."

Analyst Kowalski believes measures like these will not attract as much opposition as the proposal to legalize some 12 million immigrants in the U.S., an idea critics labeled "amnesty."

"The restrictionists feel so happy the big bill was defeated," Kowalski says. "I'm hoping they won't be able to muster enough support or emotional energy to counter the smaller pieces as they come up."

"They just didn't get it," counters Rosemary Jenks of Numbers USA, a lobbying group that wants to reduce immigration. "The reason that the bill failed is because the American people reacted. They cried out, in numbers that we've never seen before. And they were not saying, 'Give us just the amnesty.'"

Jenks wants some of the Senate bill's tough enforcement measures to be passed on their own, but the administration has made clear that is not likely. For one thing, some $4.4 billion promised for enforcement was to have been raised through the fees paid by millions of immigrants seeking legalization.

Still, Jenks says she will push for smaller things, like expanding so-called "expedited removal," to deport foreigners more quickly; using better technology at border checkpoints; and, most importantly, having the Social Security Administration share information with immigration enforcement officials. Jenks says this would show, for example, when more than one business is employing a worker with the same Social Security number.

"If it's a meat-packing plant in Nebraska that's paying in (to Social Security), and a department store in New York City, it's probably not the same person working in both places," she says.

Jenks says the administration has the power to make these changes on its own. But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently told Fox News the next move is up to Congress.

"They've tried enforcement only; that didn't pass," Chertoff said. "We've tried comprehensive; that stalled. I think it's now time for Congress, which has the power to legislate, to make a determination about how it wants to help us solve this problem."

Not everyone is waiting for Congress to act. Microsoft, for example, has announced it will open a new center in Canada, just across the border from its Seattle headquarters. The move is, in part, so the company can employ high-tech workers caught up in the backlogged U.S. visa system.

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