Hundreds of thousands of immigrants and supporters of immigrant rights held rallies around the United States last week. There are about 11 million illegal immigrants, and the U.S. government has come under increasing pressure from the right and the left to address the problem. In December, the House of Representatives passed a version of an immigration reform bill that calls for tough border security and considers illegal immigrants felons. However, the Senate, whose version of immigration reform is less punitive, recently failed to pass a bill before its two-week spring recess. Its measure would have reinforced border security while simultaneously providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Jose Carreno, correspondent with the Mexican daily El Universal, said Mexicans – who make up the largest bloc of illegal immigrants – view the debate with growing concern. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Carreno called the House bill “very repressive” and said the Senate bill represented a better compromise. Advocates of the Senate compromise bill believe immigrants contribute significantly to the U.S. economy by doing jobs many Americans refuse to do. Jose Carreno favors a guest-worker program that Senate legislation would have included, had it passed. This would provide temporary status for immigrants to work in the United States, a program that President Bush also endorses.
But Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief for Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said Germany’s Gastarbeiter, or guest worker, program – on which the proposed U.S. program is modeled – has not worked very well. He noted that many Turkish Gastarbeiter have been in Germany for more than 20 years. Mr. Rueb described the program as a “kind of amnesty,” but he added that without an amnesty the problem probably couldn’t be solved, noting that the United States cannot “simply deport 11-12 million people who live in this country illegally.”
Illegal immigrants come from many other countries, although about 56 percent are from Mexico. Korean journalist Hanna Won Park of the Yonhap News Agency said about 18 percent of Korean immigrants are undocumented and unable to obtain legal status. In some cases, she noted, they are married to U.S. citizens. Ms. Park said she believes that the United States, which is a “nation of immigrants,” needs to revise its immigration policy.
Some political analysts say the large rallies last week represent the beginning of a major civil rights movement among Latinos and some other immigrant groups. They are amazed by how the issue has “energized and galvanized” the Latino community and suggest that ultimately they will succeed politically. But U.S. citizens are polarized over the issue of illegal immigration. And the only thing on which they agree is that the current system is not working.
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