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Immigrant Advocacy Groups Press for US Reforms


Immigrant advocacy groups are seeking to raise pressure on Washington to reach agreement on the overhaul of America's immigration law. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that immigrant advocates are hoping that, after several failures, a deal can be reached with the support of the White House before the end of the year.

Immigrants around the United States are stepping up their push for immigration law reforms, echoing President Bush's call for such reforms.

Speaking near the Mexican border in Arizona this week, Mr. Bush said he is working with Republican and Democratic lawmakers to negotiate a comprehensive reform bill that he can sign into law this year. At the heart of his proposal is the reinforcement of border patrols and the creation of a guest worker program.

Many pro-immigrant groups support the president's plan.

Last year, U.S. lawmakers failed to reach agreement, but this year may be different, says immigration attorney, Samuel Pagan.

Pagan says this is a crucial time, and he notes that many lawmakers have said they expect a reform bill will be approved this year. If not, he says, it will be very difficult to get the immigration issue on the agenda next year when there are presidential elections.

To help press Washington on the issue, a coalition of immigration advocacy groups is calling for mass rallies in Miami and other U.S. cities on May 1. More than a million immigrants marched in similar rallies last year, in part to protest some proposals by the Republican-led Congress that emphasized cracking down on illegal immigrants in the country.

Now that the Democrats are in control of Congress, immigration advocates put much hope in a legislative proposal called the Strive Act and introduced by Republican Congressman Jeff Flake and Democrat Luis Gutierrez. Supporters of the bill say it addresses the major concerns about immigration.

Rosa Kasse, president of the Hispanic Coalition, says the Strive Act would create a guest worker program, as requested by President Bush. It would also create a program for illegal immigrants to gain legal status in the United States. And she says it includes border security measures.

She says border security issues are amply addressed in the proposed Strive Act, which she says would pay for new enforcement technologies and the addition of 18,000 new border patrol agents.

President Bush has called for the new border guards to be in place by 2008, as part of broad efforts to reinforce the nation's borders.

Immigration advocates say the president's commitment to the reforms is a key reason the issue remains on the nation's agenda, even after earlier failures to reach a political compromise. The top Democrat in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the president's backing will be needed to sway Republican votes, if a reform bill comes to a vote in Congress.

For U.S. businesses, the uncertain future of the immigration reforms is a source of major concern. Attorney Samuel Pagan says business leaders and religious groups are stepping in to press for a resolution.

He says business leaders are pressuring politicians to resolve the immigration issue, because their businesses are beginning to suffer negative economic impact.

Immigration officials have detained hundreds of illegal immigrant workers in raids on several U.S. businesses in recent months. Farmers also have complained about a shortage of migrant labor from Latin America, because of heightened tensions.

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