April 4, 2008

L.A. Votes Against Anti Immigrant Legislation

By Kenneth Kim
New America Media

LOS ANGELES — With praise from Jewish, Korean and Hispanic immigrant rights activists, the Los Angeles City Council, voting 11 to 1, passed a resolution Wednesday to oppose the controversial Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act that would mandate employers to verify the immigration status of workers and require local police to enforce federal laws.

According to the opponents, major U.S. cities including San Francisco, Boston and Chicago already have expressed opposition and are considering adopting a resolution similar to the one passed in Los Angeles.

While resolutions are largely symbolic, many of them may pressure the Congress members representing regions, to think twice on issues, or provide a justification for local authorities to resist cooperating, with the federal government.

“It puts in jeopardy millions of employers and workers who are today acting legally. Among other things, it would take local police away from cracking down on violent crimes and building up a safer community,” said L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, who introduced the resolution.

The SAVE Act, introduced in 2007 by Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat, would require employers to check both new, and previously hired, employees’ work eligibility by using an electronic verification system. It also advocates levying stiffer penalties for immigration related offenses.

The bill seeks to hire more Border Patrol Agents, federal district judges, and involve local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Bill opponents argue that utilizing local police for immigration law enforcement would lead to civil rights violations, put more burdens on already overstretched local police departments, and possibly endanger public safety by eroding the trust between police and the immigrant communities they serve.

The government databases, which would be used to verify the immigration status of employees, are full of errors, they note. Social Security Administration’s records contain more than 17 million errors and Department of Homeland Security’s database is not error free.

Opponents worry that mistakes in the records can create a situation in which thousands of people, including U.S. citizens could be unjustly fired or just waste time, money and energy trying to clear their names.

Like H.R. 4437 (the Sensenbrenner bill) that triggered the historic immigrant rights marches in 2006, they argue that this bill too, is a deportation-only measure and would not resolve problems caused by the nation’s broken immigration system. Considering that 12 million undocumented workers living in the U.S. comprise 5 percent of the work force, deporting all these people is not only impractical, it’s impossible.

“This legislation erodes the very values on which our nation was built,” said Seth Brysk, executive director of American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles Chapter.

As opposition mounts, on March 11, supporters in Congress filed a discharge petition on the bill. A discharge petition is a process in which 218 member signatures are gathered in order to bypass the committee. This is a way to force the hand of House leadership and get the bill to the floor for a vote.

As of March 14, 148 members of Congress across the aisle signed the petition, and the number is expected to grow.

If not checked, there is a real danger the bill could pass, warned the opponents.

“Passing the SAVE Act would further erode America’s economic and community base and will do nothing to solve the nation’s immigration problem,” said Angela Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, before the L.A. City Council passed the resolution, Council President Garcetti, Councilman Dennis Zine, and immigrant’s rights activists held a joint press conference in the City Hall.

They vowed to do everything they could to build pressure on Congress to not pass the bill.

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