Discord on the Immigration Accord

Mexican workers line up outside the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, to wait for an interview for a working visa.
Mexican workers line up outside the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, to wait for an interview for a working visa. (By Guillermo Arias -- Associated Press)
By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 21, 2007

There is little doubt about how grass-roots organizations feel about a bipartisan immigration compromise reached in the Senate: They don't like it.

The New York Immigration Coalition issued a statement that called the proposal unacceptable, saying, "We say no to this deal." In California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund vowed to oppose numerous provisions in the plan. In Massachusetts, an immigrant and refugee advocacy coalition said the deal was "immoral, unworkable and unacceptable."

While the senators and Bush administration officials exchanged congratulations on Capitol Hill for reaching the compromise, supporters and opponents of illegal immigrants eyed the politicians warily and prepared for a legislative showdown as the proposal heads to the Senate floor this week.

Under the proposal, an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the country illegally would be eligible for legal status if they work hard, obey the law and go back to their countries of origin with the assurance that they could return. A guest-worker program would allow 400,000 new foreign nationals each year to work temporarily in the United States, but they would have no path to citizenship.

A provision that allows new U.S. citizens to sponsor relatives would be changed. A complicated point system would be instituted that rewards skilled workers who have more education and an ability to speak English. The higher the total, the more likely they would be able to bring in their family members.

But condemnations from supporters and opponents of illegal immigration were a sign that the bipartisan compromise, like the illegal immigrants it addresses, faces a rocky future. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a staunch opponent of illegal immigration, believes that the proposal's path to legal status is an amnesty that rewards lawbreakers.

Tancredo favors strengthening the Mexican border and, in the U.S. interior, cracking down so hard on illegal immigration at the workplace and in other areas that illegal immigrants would depart voluntarily.

As far as the advocates are concerned, the creation of a path, albeit an arduous one, to legal status for illegal immigrants is the deal's only high note. It is "responsive to the immigration movement's demand for a legalization program for the undocumented," said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Community Change, which helped to organize and bankroll last year's huge immigrant marches.

But Bhargava agreed with others who said the proposal cannot work without significant changes. Angelica Salas, executive director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the proposed guest-worker program that creates jobs for migrant workers but gives them no path to citizenship is wrong.

"In the future we'll be talking about guest workers who have no rights," she said.

Salas said the point system that rewards workers is a step back from the 1965 immigration act that widened quotas on the number of people who emigrate from Latin America, Africa and Asia.

"It's not being said outright, but they're saying, 'We want the right type of immigrants,' " she said. "Well, how do they look? Most people from Africa, Asia and Latin America don't speak English."

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