Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Illegal aliens who have been in the United States for more than five years could receive immigration amnesty under a plan proposed by a House Democrat from Illinois. Opponents said Wednesday that the move would reward illegal aliens already in the country for defying U.S. laws and encourage others around the world to do the same.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) believes the people he calls "undocumented workers" should not be punished for violating American immigration laws to enter or remain in the U.S. illegally.
"We know that there are seven, eight, maybe nine million undocumented workers in this country. Let me reiterate that word: Undocumented workers," Gutierrez said, "people who work hard and pay taxes and follow the laws of our country. And what they want is a simple opportunity to integrate themselves fully into our society."
But David Ray, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, disputed both Mendez' terminology and his ideology.
"Calling an illegal alien an 'undocumented worker' is like calling a bank robbery an 'unauthorized withdrawal,'" Ray said. "We're talking about people who knowingly violate our federal laws and then try to paint themselves as victims.
"If you're here illegally, the first thing you did when coming to America was to violate our immigration laws," Ray added. "So to try to euphemistically paint this group of illegal aliens as law-abiding is really being a bit disingenuous."
One answer to illegal immigration: make it legal
Gutierrez' "Unity, Security, Accountability and Family Act" (USA Family Act, H.R. 440) would allow any illegal alien who had been in the U.S. for five years on January 29, 2003, and who had not been convicted of certain criminal or civil violations to apply for and automatically receive permanent resident alien status. Illegal aliens who had been in the U.S. for less than five years but met all of the other conditions of Gutierrez' bill would be granted "conditional" permanent resident alien status, including work authorization.
Gutierrez believes the U.S. government is not really serious about enforcing limits on immigration.
"In the absence of somebody coming forward with a program with the requisite resources to deport over eight million people," Gutierrez argued, "if you're not going to do that, then what you're saying is that they can stay."
Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo conceded Gutierrez' assessment of current immigration enforcement.
"Let's not pretend that we're operating an 'immigration' policy," Tancredo said. "We're not, it's a fraud."
Despite the problems with enforcement of existing immigration laws, Tancredo told CNSNews.com Wednesday that amnesty for illegal aliens is not the answer.
"People hear it and see it and naturally think, 'Oh, good. If I get there quick, I can get in on it,'" he said. "It just encourages millions of people to come into the country [illegally]."
Tancredo said amnesty for illegal aliens is also "the biggest slap in the face there is" to all of the foreign citizens who have ever entered the U.S. legally.
"This is just simply saying to them, 'You're nothing but a bunch of suckers because, if you'd sneak into the country, we'd give you amnesty,'" he explained. "It also, of course, sends the wrong message to every single person who's trying to come in here legally. We are rewarding people for breaking our law."
'If there weren't jobs for them to do...'
Gutierrez believes, however, that the U.S. has already been welcoming illegal immigrants into the country, even if only passively.
"If there weren't jobs for them to do - that those of us who were born in this country would never consider doing - we would not have them coming to this country," Gutierrez argued. "If you don't have a plan to deport them, if you don't have the resources and the will to deport them, then stop being an accomplice in their exploitation and allow them to benefit fully from their work."
Dr. Jose Mendez, executive director of the Global Evangelism Task Force, believes the millions of "undocumented workers" currently living in the U.S. are a resource the country simply cannot survive without.
"Controlled immigration of honest taxpayers, honest citizens, law-abiding citizens is good for this country," Mendez said. "Without a fresh flow of immigrants, it would be an impossible task to achieve the economic and social development of this country."
Tancredo responded that Congress has the power to make such a change, even though he would not recommend it.
"If we do not believe - as a nation - in borders, and if we do not believe in immigration policy being established by a nation-state, then let's abolish the borders, let's repeal the laws," Tancredo said. "If that's our policy, if we're working a 'cheap labor' policy, let's say it, let's do it.
"[But] it is the dumbest thing we could ever do," he added, "in terms of our national security and in terms of trying to actually control immigration."
'Porous borders are a national security problem'
Mendez blames what he called "anti-immigration sentiments" on the terrorists who attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
"But we were not the ones who brought down the World Trade Center. We were not the ones who brought down the Pentagon," Mendez said. "We were victims of this as many other Americans were victims of these tragedies."
While Ray acknowledged that most illegal immigrants are not terrorists, he feels Mendez and other proponents of essentially unlimited immigration are missing the most important point.
"The loopholes that allow millions of illegal aliens to live amongst us for years and years are the same loopholes exploited by terrorists who are looking to set up cells in the United States and kill innocent Americans," Ray explained. "Therefore, any war on terrorism has to have a serious border enforcement component."
"Porous borders are a national security problem, and yet, we find it impossible to deal with this," he said. "We should be using our own military on our borders to augment the Border Patrol until they get to a position where they can actually seal off the border."
The Colorado Republican dismissed critics who charge that the U.S. borders are too large to effectively seal and that, even if it could be done, would require too many personnel.
"We're beyond the days when you have to have people arm-in-arm to defend the border," Tancredo explained. "Now, we have technology that allows you to take huge sections of land and survey them and go to the spot where there's a problem where you see people coming across."
It would take no more than 20,000 U.S. troops - along with unmanned aerial drones, radar and other electronic sensors - to effectively stem the flow of illegal immigrants to the U.S., Tancredo predicted.
"We have the resources to do it," he explained. "We do not have the will."
Tancredo says Bush is 'AWOL' on immigration enforcement
Even though he voted for and supports President Bush, Tancredo blames the leader of his party for fueling the current push for amnesty in a quest for Hispanic votes.
"On this issue, he is absolutely AWOL," Tancredo explained. "The president sees this as a wedge issue, he's going to go after that vote, and he doesn't want to do anything that would get them mad at him.
"Democrats see massive immigration as a source of votes for them; Republicans generally see it as a source of cheap labor.
"So, as I always say, if I could get those three problems taken care of," he added, "it would be just great."
Gutierrez' proposal would also:
Eliminate the three- to 10-year ban on re-entry into the U.S. by previously deported illegal aliens;
Bar the attorney general and the Department of Justice from using any information learned as part of the amnesty application process in immigration enforcement;
Exclude relatives of aliens who receive amnesty from the world-wide cap on the number of visas granted to the U.S. annually; and
Forbid deportation of immigrants who committed deportable offenses unless the offense was deportable at the time it was committed.
The Unity, Security, Accountability and Family Act has 16 co-sponsors and has been sent to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.
E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.