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Thousands Rally Over Immigration

Prepared by: Esther Pan
April 11, 2006

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Thousands of people have rallied throughout the United States to voice their opinions on immigration legislation pending before the Senate (NYT). Many among the hundreds of thousands of people in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Madison, and dozens of other cities showed their support for a compromise measure that emerged in the Senate before its recent recess (WashPost), which would offer a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants. The Senate proposal was much more lenient than a House bill passed in December that proposed tough measures—including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and making it a crime to help illegal aliens—to prevent illegal immigration. The harsh penalties in the House bill, which even its authors predict are unlikely to become law, have sparked strong opposition across the country, with critics including the Catholic Church and workers in dozens of states. The Senate recessed last week without taking action; the body is due to reconsider the immigration bill April 27.

Some 750,000 illegal immigrants arrive in the United States each year, and there are now about 12 million illegal immigrants in the country (Pew Hispanic Center). They make up five percent of the total U.S. work force, and take jobs—in industries including construction, food service, and care for children and the elderly—economists say are necessary to keep the economy running. The issues surrounding immigration reform are analyzed in this CFR Background Q&A.

The Christian Science Monitor says there are enough points of consensus in the Senate bill to build a good policy. CFR Senior Fellow Jagdish Bhagwati writes in the Wall Street Journal that both sides of the debate are obscuring the fact that "neither a realistic guest worker program nor increased border enforcement will eliminate the inflow of illegals" into the United States. Instead, he suggests treating immigrants humanely and asking Mexico to share the cost of educating them. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post says much of the opposition to immigration represents fear that whites will soon be a minority in America.

Mike Cassidy writes in the San Jose Mercury News that the House bill encourages a culture of fear, blame, and suspicion that counters American values, while Juan Williams, a National Public Radio senior correspondent, says the massive demonstrations could herald the beginning of a Hispanic civil rights movement (WashPost). Many politicians are paying close attention to this large and politically potent group, but some analysts warn the marchers could galvanize opposition to illegal immigration (LAT).

The Migration Policy Institute offers a side-by-side comparison of the legislative proposals on immigration facing this Congress, as well as a comprehensive series of background briefs illuminating the major aspects of the immigration issue. A Pew report focuses on five metropolitan areas to analyze America's immigration problem. The Washington Post offers comprehensive coverage of the immigration debate, and a Congressional Research Service report examines the history of guest worker programs and past Congressional attempts at immigration reform.

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