Lawmakers urged to legalize undocumented workers

By Deborah Kong The Associated Press
Wednesday October 16, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO – Immigration activists in 12 states are rallying and lobbying congressional representatives this week in an election-season effort to generate support for legalizing undocumented workers. 

“We feel like there’s been an awful lot of unfair scapegoating of immigrants” since the Sept. 11 attacks, said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which rallied Tuesday. 

Activists also visited congressional offices and held news conferences and rallies Tuesday in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tennessee, Idaho and New York. A rally in Michigan took place last month, and other events were scheduled for Oregon, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Kansas and New Jersey later this week. 

The campaign is being organized by the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support. 

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt last week introduced a bill that would grant undocumented immigrants legal status if they have been in the country at least five years, worked two years and can meet other requirements such as passing a background check. 

Gephardt admitted his proposal stands little chance of being passed by Congress this year. Referring to the upcoming elections, he said that a Democratic majority in the House would improve the chances of such legislation. 

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., opposes granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. He said Gephardt’s proposal is an attempt to “curry favor with Democratic constituency groups,” including Hispanics. 

A Pew Hispanic Center and Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,329 registered Hispanic voters found 85 percent of respondents supported giving undocumented Latino immigrants a chance to obtain legal status. Hispanic voters tend to identify themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans by more than a 2-to-1 margin, the survey found. 

The timing of Gephardt’s bill is “really strategic,” said Claudia Gomez, a fellow at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Oakland. “They will be seen as supporting immigrant communities.”