Report From Governmental Affairs

More Work Ahead

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Congress is poised to pick up where it left off in considering several controversial proposals to restrict immigration into the United States.

Last year, proponents sought to in­clude the immigration mea­sures in the House version of leg­islation to overhaul the na­tion’s intelligence system. But when the measures triggered contentious debate that threatened to bring action on the legislation to a standstill, their supporters agreed to drop them–with the understanding that they would be attached to “must pass” legislation early in the 109th Congress.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R Wis., the House Judiciary Committee chairman, planned to reintroduce some of the immigration measures, which he maintains are critical to national security.

The measures would, among other things, require individuals to prove they are in the United States le­gally before they may obtain a driver’s license; require people seeking political asylum to meet a higher standard of proof to show that they were persecuted in their home countries; and authorize funding to build a fence on the border with Mexico, near San Diego.

Some of last year’s controversial proposals will not be part of the Sensenbrenner package, including a provision to allow authorities to use an “expedited removal” process to more easily deport undocumented aliens without judicial review.

Last year, the ABA said in a letter to Senate House conferees working on the intelligence legisla­tion that the expedited removal provisions authorizing low level immigration officers to determine the admissibility of individuals and issue removal orders “would diminish procedural and due process protections afforded to individuals in the immigration system and may have serious, even life threatening, consequences for immigrants and asylum seekers.”

Sensenbrenner maintains that Congress should enact tighter immigration restrictions before it considers related measures, including a proposal by the Bush administration to establish a temporary worker program.

Bush’s plan would match foreign workers with U.S. employers to fill positions when no citizens can be found for the jobs. The foreign workers, after paying a onetime fee to register for the program, would be offered legal status as temporary workers for three years with an option for renewal. Participants still would have to go through the naturalization process if they decide to seek citizenship.

Protecting Basic Rights

The ABA position is that any temporary worker program must guarantee basic labor rights, and give workers and their immediate relatives a realistic opportunity to obtain permanent resident status.

“It is our hope that Congress will balance security issues with the fact that America is a country of immigrants and a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution through­out the world,” says Richard Peña of Austin, Texas, who chairs the ABA Commission on Immigration. “Frankly, if our country is to be prosperous and successful in the glo­bal economy, we need immigrants.”

One proposal the ABA advocates would provide legal pro­tections for unaccompanied alien children. In 2004, the policy making House of Delegates adopted standards the commission developed that outline those protections, including appointment of qualified counsel and trained guardians ad litem. A bill incorporating some of the standards passed the Senate but died at the end of the 108th Congress.

Rhonda McMillion is editor of Washington Letter, an ABA Governmental Affairs Office publication.

This column is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government.

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