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US Immigration Debate Creates Unusual Political Alliances


The intense debate over immigration reform in the United States has revealed some rather unusual political alliances in recent months. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The old saying that politics makes strange bedfellows certainly applies to the immigration debate under way in the U.S. Senate.

The complicated proposal would grant legal status to the estimated 12 million undocumented workers now in the United States, tighten borders and crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

The plan has the support of President Bush and a diverse bipartisan group of senators that includes Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts on the left and Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona on the right.

"And from my perspective, it is not perfec," said Kyl. "But it represents the best opportunity that we have in a bipartisan way to do something about this problem."

But Kyl and other conservatives who support the bill are paying a political price for their endorsement. Conservative activists like radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh see the proposal as a form of amnesty for millions who entered the country illegally.

"If you are in our country, you cannot be a burden to taxpayers," said Limbaugh. "You are not entitled to welfare or food stamps or other government goodies. And another thing, you do not have the right to protest."

"You are allowed no demonstrations, no foreign flag-waving, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. You are a foreigner. Shut your mouth or get out. And if you come here illegally, you are going to jail," he continued.

Conservative opponents have found some uneasy allies on the political left.

Civil rights groups and labor unions object to a provision in the bill that would establish a temporary guest worker program that would allow immigrants to work in the United States for a limited time and then return to their home countries.

"As long as this two-tiered system exists, all workers will suffer, because employers will have available a ready pool of labor that they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards," said Linda Chavez Thompson, who is with the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of trade unions in the United States.

Immigration has also become a major issue in the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign.

One Republican candidate, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, has made stopping illegal immigration the centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

"Millions of listeners have helped us stop amnesty and make almost every candidate running for public office at least pretend to oppose illegal immigration. So join me, because securing our borders is the first step in securing our future," he said.

Despite the opposition from the right and left, President Bush continues to insist that the compromise immigration reform proposal before the Senate is the best opportunity to address both border security and legalization of those already in the country.

"But if you are serious about securing our borders and bringing millions of illegal immigrants in our country out of the shadows, this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward," said the presient.

A recent New York Times-CBS News poll indicated that there is broad support for some of the major provisions in the immigration bill.

A large majority in the survey favored allowing illegal immigrants already in the country to gain legal status. There was also strong support for the creation of a new guest worker program.

The poll also showed that 82 percent of those asked supported tighter enforcement of the borders and stiffer penalties for businesses that hire illegal immigrants.

Republican political strategist Ed Goeas says passage of immigration reform will depend on political centrists from both parties being able to withstand opposition from both the right and left.

"We both have our wings that are anti-immigration," said Goeas. "But that is a real opportunity for the president to come forward and say, here is what I have been trying to do on immigration, now is our opportunity to bring in both the middle [centrist] majority from the Democratic side and the middle majority from the Republican side and solve this problem."

The Senate has already made changes to the original immigration proposal and more challenges are expected before final approval. The Senate version would then have to be reconciled with a version yet to be passed by the House of Representatives, then signed into law by the president.

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