Immigration-bill marchers win a nod from Rep. Brady

Posted: February 03, 2010

About 40 immigrant advocates marched to U.S. Rep. Bob Brady's South Philadelphia office yesterday, urging the congressman to co-sponsor a House bill on comprehensive immigration reform.

Chanting "Qué queremos? Justicia!" and "A qué venimos? A trabajar!" (What do we want? Justice! What are we here for? To work!"), the predominantly Hispanic immigrants, mixed with Cambodians, held signs that declared, "This is the only home I and my children know" and "Reform Immigration for America."

They are seeking a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants in the country, among other things, that are addressed in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill (H.R. 4321) introduced in December by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

President Obama vowed to tackle immigration reform before he came into office but made scant mention of the issue in his State of the Union address last week, focusing mostly on jobs and the economy.

Experts also said that with health-care reform up in the air and midterm elections in November, it is unlikely that Congress will take up the controversial immigration debate this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that she will not debate the issue until the Senate does.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, is working to introduce such a bill.

Brady, who was traveling to Washington yesterday, agreed to co-sponsor the House bill, his spokesman said, after being informed that members of Latino-advocacy group Juntos, the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia and New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an interfaith coalition, were heading to his Broad Street office, near Mifflin.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, another Philadelphia Democrat, is already a co-sponsor.

The House bill would, among other things:

* Increase border security;

* Require employers to verify that their employees have work authorization, and impose penalties on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants;

* Provide a pathway to legalization and possible citizenship for most of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, if they meet certain criteria.

Marc Rosenblum, an immigration-policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, in Washington, said that this bill is seen more as a starting-off point.

"Representative Gutierrez himself has said this bill is not the most likely vehicle the House will take up," Rosenblum said. "It's seen more as a liberal marker, a point to negotiate from."

Rosenblum said that Schumer was trying to work with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "to reach an agreement on a bipartisan bill to push forward in the Senate."

He said that he sees 2011 as the more likely year that Congress will debate immigration reform.

"The smart money says it's not at the top of Congress' to-do list right now," he said. "There are several items seen as more pressing. Like a jobs bill or a health-care bill or an energy bill. Also, the politics of the immigration debate are seen as more complicated. Many Democrats see it as a politically difficult thing to take on in a tough election year."

Danielle Doane, a congressional-relations expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in Washington, also doesn't see immigration as a priority.

"Right now, it's jobs, jobs, jobs," she said. "I have seen the immigration-rights people saying pro-immigration reform will create more jobs. But I don't see that being taken that seriously."

Antonio Hernandez, 23, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico City, who was among those who marched to Brady's office, would like to see Gutierrez's bill passed.

"They help the economy," he said of immigrants like himself.

Hernandez, who lives in South Philly and works in a restaurant, said he crossed the border into the United States in 2003 for a "better life, to support my family," referring to his parents and younger sister in Mexico City.

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