Legislators Criticize Immigration Reform
Saturday, May 19, 2007
By ELIZABETH LLORENTE
North Jersey political leaders said Friday that the bipartisan immigration reform bill negotiated in the U.S. Senate might aggravate problems linked to illegal immigrants -- and in some cases create new ones.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a key negotiator in the closed-door meetings on the bill, said he would not vote for it as proposed. North Jersey Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, which is expected to draft its own immigration reform bill later this year, said they would not support a measure that mirrored the Senate proposal.
Some members of the delegation and North Jersey town officials criticized the proposal, which aims to tighten border security while offering legal status to many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the nation, for setting impossibly tough standards for permanent residency.
They said the fines – about $1,000 to apply for a work visa and $4,000 to apply for a green card – as well as English language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. civics, almost immediately disqualifies a large segment of the illegal immigrant population, which includes people who earn low wages and have low education levels. They also objected to the scaling down of family reunification as a priority in U.S. immigration policy.
New Jersey is home to some 500,000 illegal immigrants, many of them laborers from Latin America's poorest regions.
Menendez, of Hudson County, said he and most members of Congress "all support fines for those who broke the law," but called the amount of the fines "prohibitive."
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes, who is chairman of the Immigration Task Force for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said the large fines would put many immigrant families in a financial crisis. And that, in turn, would compel more illegal immigrants to turn to unsafe practices, such as living in overcrowded conditions, to make ends meet.
"In New Jersey we have individuals working in restaurants and hotels for whom having to pay $5,000 in fines would be prohibitive," said Wildes, who is also an immigration attorney. "It would add further economic burden to an already overburdened and underappreciated community, and would force them into dangerous situations to save money."
Other legislators wanted tougher penalties for illegal immigrants, who they feel will get the message that they are being rewarded for having defied U.S. immigration laws.
The staff of Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, said they have been inundated with calls from constituents expressing anger over the idea of giving a pass to illegal immigrants.
"People in our district are furious," said Michelle Presson, Garrett's chief of staff. "These are people who are legal immigrants, people who became U.S. citizens; they spent a lot of time and money trying to do it the legal way.
"If this becomes law, they're the ones who are more likely to be competing directly with the people who cut to the front of the line and didn't bother to go through the process like they did."
In a statement, Garrett said: "They're the first to sense the extraordinary unfairness of amnesty, and they'll be the first to experience that unfairness as well."
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Morristown, said giving illegal immigrants a path to legalization "will increase the flow of illegal immigrants" by sending the message that if they can get inside the United States, eventually they will obtain green cards.
Leaders on both sides of the immigration issue had misgivings about the guest worker provision, which would allow illegal immigrants to work in the United States under probationary conditions that would, for instance, require them to commit to one employer, and to keep a clean criminal record. These workers would obtain renewable four-year "Z visas." Leaders also criticized the greater preferences that would be given to foreign-born high-tech workers.
"This temporary worker provision would have a horrible effect on New Jersey," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson. "We have a lot of high-tech companies in this state, and the bill could displace many of our workers if companies can import someone who will do the work for $20,000 less."
Finally, those who favor more liberal immigration policies criticized the bill's tighter family reunification provision. It would allow U.S. citizens and legal immigrants to petition for spouses and minor children living overseas. Current law also allows them to petition for siblings, parents and adult children.
"Immigrants are helped by having their families here," said Palisades Park Councilman Jason Kim. "For the Korean community, having your parents here makes it possible for us to work the long hours we do in this country, and we know that our children are supervised and that our home is being run with care. This benefits the larger community."
Rep. Steve Rothman, D-Fair Lawn, could not be reached for comment.
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