Thousands of demonstrators in Los Angeles, California protested the proposed immigration laws on March 25, 2006.
(Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
By Tiffany Chaparro
March 28, 2006The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a controversial immigration reform bill on Monday, creating fear in some and providing hope for others. The bill would create a new guest-worker program for immigrants and allow the 12-million illegal immigrants now in the U.S. a chance to obtain legal status.
The committee's bill was argued before the full Senate for approval on Tuesday. Before it can become law, the bill must be passed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and then be signed by President George W. Bush.
The controversial bill will be hard to pass as is. An even tougher House version was approved in December. Most likely, the issue will play a big part in the midterm elections set for November 7.
President Bush spoke about the new immigration bill Monday at a naturalization ceremony in which residents were sworn in as official citizens of the U.S. He opposes the proposed legislation because it would grant amnesty to illegal immigrants already in the country. Amnesty is an action taken by the government, forgiving a group of people for breaking the law.
"Granting amnesty would be unfair, because it would allow those who break the law to jump ahead... of people who play by the rules and have waited in line for citizenship," Bush said. He said workers should be able to apply for legal status on a temporary basis because they are part of the growing economy in America.
"No one should pretend that immigrants are a threat to American identity, because immigrants have shaped America's identity," he said.
The immigration bill approved by the House in December would make it a felony, or serious crime, for anyone to provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants. It would also make living illegally in the U.S. a felony.
The bill does not provide any way for illegal immigrants to become citizens and also would require that a 700-mile fence be built on the Mexican-American border. Calling the law "immoral," churches and other humanitarian organizations said they would continue to help people in need.
Protests Around the Nation
Last weekend, thousands of citizens from all over the country protested the proposed immigration laws. In Los Angeles, California, more than 22,000 Hispanic high school and middle school students marched through the streets in peaceful protest. Many carried American flags as well as the flags of Latin American countries as they walked to City Hall. There, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the city's first Hispanic mayor in more than a century, spoke to the students.
"I know that all of you are fearful about what's going on," Mayor Villaraigosa said. "And so I recognize that all of you felt strongly, so strongly that you had to come to City Hall."
School walkouts were also reported in other parts of California, including in San Diego and Orange counties.
Students were worried what would happen if the December House Bill passes.
"If this law passes, there would be no more Los Angeles High School. Nearly all of us are immigrants," said Yadria Pech, a 16-year-old junior at the school.
On Saturday, more than 500,000 people marched in Los Angeles to protest the House bill. Protests and rallies were also held in Dallas and Houston, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; and Washington, D.C.
The U.S. public is divided on how strict the immigration policy should be. In a recent public opinion poll, 62 percent of Americans surveyed said they wanted stricter immigration policies.
Caroline Espinosa, a spokeswoman for NumbersUSA, a Washington-based immigration control group, said that both illegal and legal immigration would push the U.S. population to 420 million by 2050. The current population is about 295 million. She believes this would have a terrible impact on the quality of life in America.
Still, many in the business community and in religious organizations are happy with the Senate bill and believe that it is fair. Many business owners think the guest-worker portion of the bill will help provide needed workers. Representatives of religious and other nonprofit organizations want to continue to help illegal immigrants.
"We cannot criminalize people who are working, people who are contributing to our economy and contributing to the nation," Villaraigosa said.
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