Forum scheduled to examine good, bad in immigration reform plan

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Attorneys, professors, student activists and others tomorrow will drill into the federal immigration reform proposals recently introduced in Congress, examining the legislation's positives and negatives during an open forum at UC Riverside.

The Forum on Comprehensive Humane Immigration Reform is a continuation of a summit held in March in response to the so-called Gang of Eight's plans to modify federal immigration laws and regulations.

On April 16, the gang -- Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. -- unveiled proposed legislation aimed at broadening immigration opportunities while upgrading border security.

The nation's roughly 11 million or more illegal immigrants would be granted tentative authorization to remain in the country under the plan, but not until security is improved at the border with Mexico.

Participants in the UCR forum will include ethnic studies Professor Armando Navarro; Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund; immigration attorney Russell Juaragui; ACLU staff attorney Lucero Chavez and Ellen Reese, professor of sociology and chair of the UCR Labor Studies Program.

More than 300 people attended the campus forum on March 16, which tackled the same issue.

According to the Gang of Eight's five-year "Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy," 3,500 customs agents would be hired nationwide and the use of U.S. National Guardsmen would be authorized to help with constructing fencing along the southwest border and operating mobile surveillance systems.

Border Patrol agents would need to achieve a 90 percent success rate in halting illegal border crossings in the most highly trafficked areas, according to the proposal. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the comptroller general would have to jointly agree that such a standard has been met.

The lawmakers' proposal, now under consideration in the U.S. Senate, would also incorporate a nationwide employment verification system, currently known as E-Verify, which uses federal records to confirm whether an individual has a valid visa authorizing him or her to work in the U.S.

The number of available H-1B visas, reserved for "high-skilled" foreigners with backgrounds in engineering and other in-demand fields, would be expanded to 185,000 annually over five years. Fewer than 85,000 a year are available now.

The new law would also create a W-Visa program for low-skilled workers, paving the way for 75,000 laborers to be admitted to work in the U.S. every year.

Provisions related to granting visas to foreigners whose family members are permanent legal residents would be loosened under the legislation, enabling both married and unmarried adult children of settled immigrants to apply for residency.

All citizen applicants would be subject to criminal background checks, according to the proposal.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in February to support the Gang of Eight's legislative pillars that described the lawmakers' intentions. One of the board's conditions for backing the reform plan was that counties ultimately be reimbursed for the cost of incarcerating and providing social services to illegals. The Gang of Eight's bill contained no such promise.

Critics of the plan liken it to blanket amnesty, comparing it to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which legalized more than 3 million undocumented immigrants with the promise of tougher border security.

"The 1986 act . . . never delivered increased security and heavy sanctions on employers who hired illegal immigrants," said Joe Guzzardi with Californians for Population Stabilization. "Amnesty passed, but internal and border enforcement never happened."

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the senators' framework is "designed to satisfy the demands of illegal aliens and their advocates, as well as business interests that want more cheap labor."

"American taxpayers will be saddled with staggering costs in the future as millions of poorly skilled illegal aliens become eligible for government services and programs," he said.

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