July 20, 2007

Panel urges Congress to consider new approach to immigration reform

By Garesia La’Shay Randle
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON — Congress ought to deal with immigration reform the way it has often dealt with controversial issues - appoint a bipartisan commission to figure it out.

In a discussion Wednesday about a new book “Debating Immigration,” officials from immigration reform groups raised issues Congress should consider in a new immigration bill.

After months of debate, the Senate failed to pass an immigration bill last month.

The book’s editor, Carol M. Swain, professor at Vanderbilt University’s School of Law, and an opponent of the Senate bill, said reform should be taken out of the hands of Congress and put in the hands of a bipartisan commission that would put a package of reforms together for Congress to vote on.

“There are so many issues that cannot be effectively addressed by Congress unless it is done in a way that members are insulated from public opinion and from interest groups,” Swain said.

Congress has used commissions to reform Social Security and to decide what military installations to close.

The panel, which was sponsored by the Population Resource Center, which provides demographic data for policy debates, also addressed immigration’s impact on the nation.

Jonathan Tilove, a journalist for Newhouse News Service, who wrote a chapter in the book, said Congress should examine the resistance of small communities that have recently been flooded with immigrants as a reason for the bill’s demise.

“Immigration over the last 17 years has reached smaller communities across the country,” Tilove said. “And it goes to the places that still have a real sense of community identity in place, and there is resistance and those grassroots oppositions, which became manifested.”

He said he is not surprised that small towns and cities have come up with local ordinances to eliminate or reduce illegal immigrants’ access to rights and services.

Virginia’s Loudoun and Prince William counties, both near Washington, adopted laws in the last week to curb illegal immigrants’ access to county services.

Steven A. Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, who wrote a chapter in the book, focused on what he said were false claims about the failed bill. His group, which seeks to reduce immigration, also cosponsored the discussion.

“We often hear the perspective of those in the business community that there is a terrible shortage of workers,” Camarota said. “But when we look at the data that the government collects on this... no matter how you try to slice it, we can find no support for that.”

In a report he did last year, Camarota said he looked at all 473 occupations defined by Congress.

“I was looking for the population with virtually no natives. They don’t exist,” Camarota said.

He said it would be in the country’s best interest to have fewer unskilled immigrants and more highly educated immigrants who would pay more Social Security taxes to improve the system’s finances.

Swain said a bipartisan commission should consider a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.

“It is a lure that brings people here, and it is a loophole that was never meant to be used that way,” Swain said.

Swain said better border control, a main provision in the ill-fated immigration bill, is not as big a problem as immigrants who stay after their visas expire.

“There needs to be stiffer penalties for those who are in the country illegally,” Swain said.

Swain said she knows it would take at least a year for a bipartisan commission to be created and propose a bill. A commission will only work if it is backed by strong presidential leadership, she said.

“I would not want Bush to be the president to put it together,” Swain said in an interview.

Swain said bill’s failure should not allow people to stop discussing the situation.

“The failure of the bill gives people that care an opportunity to sort of appoint themselves with the facts and to organize more effectively and to put something that together that is truly more comprehensive,” she said.

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