U.S. Choosing Acceptable Mix of Immigration

Daniel Schorr, a senior news analyst at NPR, says that the current debate about immigration challenges Americans to decide what mix of legitimizing and criminalizing immigrants they are willing to accept.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Demonstrations around the country over immigration policy ran through the weekend and are now spilling into the work week. On Capital Hill today, immigration rights activists decried a bill passed by the House in December. Later in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented its own immigration bill for consideration.

News analyst Daniel Schorr says signs point to the likely demise of House Bill 4437.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

President Bush says that America does not have to choose between being a welcoming society and being a lawful society. But at stake in the contentious debate, which may consume the Senate for the next two weeks, is what mix of legitimizing and criminalizing immigrants will the country stand for?

The estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are no longer inert spectators, as the land of the golden door decides their fate. The half-million demonstrators in Los Angeles, and many thousands in other cities, should serve as a wake-up call to legislators. They may have thought that all they had to do was to build a wall at the border to satisfy the security conscious, and to admit enough guest workers to satisfy the business needs for low-wage workers. "To do the work that some Americans won't do," as Mr. Bush put it, although Americans might be more willing to clean offices and pick tomatoes if the jobs paid a decent wage.

As the Senate debate gets under way, it appears that one decision may have already been made. The Bill passed by the House would simply build a wall at the border and declare the 11 million immigrants to be felons. It would also require clergy to check the documents of those seeking assistance. The House Bill will probably not survive a conference with the Senate in its present form, not when clergymen put on handcuffs to demonstrate their abhorrence, and not when California's Cardinal Mahoney says he would instruct priests in his diocese to disobey such a law.

There is immigration reform and there is immigration enforcement. And it seems significant that President Bush's own popularity, needing some reinforcement, swore in 30 new American citizens today, saying, "No one should play on people's fears or try to pit neighbors against each other."

It seemed a way of saying that the House has tipped too far in the direction of enforcement.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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