How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Senate immigration reform proposal draws mixed reactions

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Eight U.S. Senate Democrats and Republicans announced a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, a day before President Obama plans to discuss his own strategy in Nevada.

The plan proposes what its backers call a “tough but fair” path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. But this is contingent upon securing the border - a difficult goal - and a crackdown on visa overstays.

While some immigrant advocates praise the Senate’s initiative, others say the plan is too similar to a failed enforcement-heavy 2007 reform proposal and existing federal strictures on immigration. Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in Los Angeles, says he’d prefer a path to citizenship without the contingencies.

“It’s the same notion as 2007, nothing has changed: The idea that enforcement needs to go first, and then after that, legalization," Alvarado says. "And of course that has failed, because it has ended up in the deportation of 1.5 million people."

Critics at the other end of the immigration spectrum say a broad legalization plan – even like the one proposed – could generate more illegal immigration. Steve Camarota with the Center for Immigration Studies - a Washington, D.C. think tank that favors tighter immigration restrictions – spoke with KPCC’s AirTalk.

"The more legal immigrants you have, the more friends and family typically come to join them," Camarota says. "That is what the research shows. If we ever want to get a handle on illegal immigration, we have to make clear that we’re not going to have an amnesty."

Comprehensive immigration reform proposals introduced in 2006 and 2007 didn’t make it out of Congress. UC Irvine sociologist Louis DeSipio says the main political difference between now and then is that some Republican lawmakers are more eager these days to appeal to Latinos and other voters of color.

"The key question is whether the Republican leadership is genuinely concerned about losses they have suffered over the last several elections, both in Latino electorates and Asian American electorates," DeSipio says. "I think we might see some action in the Senate. My concern though is the House of Representatives. That was a major barrier in 2006 to comprehensive immigration reform, and will be again in 2013."

Other elements of the Senate plan include new attention to employment verification, and reforming the processes by which this country legally admits immigrants and guest workers. 

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