Groups Hope Democratic Congress Will Prioritize Immigration

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Immigrant rights groups are gathering in Washington, D.C., with hopes of pushing Congress into enacting comprehensive immigration reform and giving some 12 million illegal aliens in the United States a path towards citizenship.

But an immigration expert said he doubted the Democratic majority in Congress would prioritize an issue, given the strength of public feeling against an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Representatives of a coalition known as the Fair Immigration Reform Movement will be meeting with members of Congress this week, with the goal of pushing forward their agenda.

"This is really a historic moment that we're living in. We feel there is really a great opportunity to see the enactment of historic laws that would change radically our immigration system," said Eun Sook Lee, executive director of one of the coalition groups, the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.

Lee told Cybercast News Service that with the new Congress in place, the time is ripe for movement on this issue.

"We think there is the opportunity to see a really good bill passed that really helps to advance the rights of immigrants," she said, but acknowledged that "there is also the possibility of something that would really make it more difficult for immigrants living in this country."

"What we would like to see is something that would address major problems in our system today - one of them being that we have so many people who are living in the shadows without documentation, so we'd like to see an opportunity for them to legalize their status here in the U.S.," Lee said.

"In a lot of ways [illegal aliens] have done everything like a citizen in terms of living in this country, buying homes, working here, contributing to the economy and to their community around them," Lee argued.

The coalition is also working to "protect the rights of all Americans in this country, including immigrants," she said. "We understand the need for security, but ... you don't have to deny the basic rights of all."

Lee said the group has a meeting to discuss these issues with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday.

But John Keeley, communications director for the non-profit Center for Immigration Studies, said he does not believe the coalition's "ambitious agenda" will "comport with the political realities confronting the new speaker [Rep. Nancy Pelosi] and majority leader up on Capitol Hill."

"Their first order of business is to maintain their majority," Keeley told Cybercast News Service. "On the speaker's part, that comes up in less than two years' time.

"With that in mind, and the majority public will against an amnesty, it just seems unlikely that they will expend precious political capital championing legislation that the vast majority of American people don't want," Keeley said.

Keeley noted that he did not believe immigration reform was a priority for the congressional leadership - "not quite a top five issue."

"We can already tell from the absence of it from the speaker's first 100-hours agenda that it's not particularly high" on the priority list, he said.

"From our vantage, 'comprehensive reform' of this sweeping nature ... is unlikely in the 110th Congress due to a number of factors, but not least among them the breadth and competitiveness of the '08 presidential cycle," Keeley said.

The presidential candidates are likely to avoid "a hot-button issue like immigration and the prominence it's enjoyed in recent years."

"I think what the new Congress will do with the issue is legislate in piecemeal as opposed to comprehensive fashion ... tinkering with immigration policy, as opposed to a full-scale overhaul of it."

Keeley pointed in this regard to the DREAM Act, which provides legal "residency for illegal alien high school students so that they can qualify for in-state tuition at American colleges and universities" as well as exceptions for agricultural jobs.

Lee, however, stressed that Pelosi, Reid, and President Bush "have spoken about the need to look at immigration as a whole and not in parts."

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