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Advocacy Groups Call for Immigration Law Reforms - 2002-05-14

In New York, a coalition of advocacy groups has launched a new nationwide campaign, calling for the reform of U.S. immigration laws and the legalization of undocumented immigrants.

The grassroots alliance of immigrant, community, labor and religious organizations throughout the United States plans to send up to one million postcards to President Bush and members Congress before congressional elections in November.

A clear message is written on the cards - "fix immigration laws now."

In a news conference held outside New York's Immigration and Naturalization Service, the coalition announced the campaign, pushing for reform that would legalize immigrants already living and working in the United States.

Legalizing undocumented workers topped the agenda of the Bush administration. But momentum came to a standstill after the September 11 attacks.

Margee McKee, who heads the New York Immigrant Coalition, says that legalization is crucial to ensure that hard-working immigrants are not effected by legislation aimed at potential terrorists. "As we implement these new security issues," she said, "what we're finding is not terrorists or people who mean to do the country harm. We are finding undocumented immigrants. We needed to [implement] the legalization program before we tighten up on security or else we are going to waste a lot of our security efforts deporting people that we actually need here to be filling jobs that are vital to the economy."

Advocates say that although immigrants contribute about $440 billion a year to the U.S. economy, many are paid less than minimum wage and are threatened by deportation.

Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez says that for years she has been fighting to close illegal sweatshops in her district, which exploit powerless undocumented immigrant workers. Ms. Velasquez says that ensuring workers rights must be a part of the legalization process.

Ms. Velasquez said, "We've got to respect the human rights of every person in this country, including undocumented workers. This is a win-win situation. It is a win for undocumented workers and it is a win for our economy because we will be able to provide a stable labor force."

Advocates argue that the U.S. economy depends on immigrants to fill important sectors of the workforce, to maintain rates of growth and to support an increasing number of retirees.