Stalled Immigration Reform

May 1, 2009 10:02:13 PM PDT
March Downtown FresnoAs marchers made their move on Fresno's City Hall Friday, the immigration reform they want seems stalled in Washington, D.C. When big crowds descended on City Hall and across the country in 2006, Congress listened - for a while.

The Kennedy-McCain bill that followed was as close to comprehensive immigration reform as congress has come in decades. It failed and since then, the marches have shrunk and reformers voices haven't been heard as loudly.

"It was more visible two years ago because of the marches, but this has been a continued struggle," said Myrna Martinez-Nateras of the Pan Valley Institute.

Activists say federal immigration raids on homes in west Fresno County and in other immigrant communities were a big reason for the huge turnout back then.

These days, they have less to be mad about. President Obama promised to make immigration reform part of his agenda, and his administration has vowed to hold off on raids. Activists say the White House is at least listening to them now."We don't know if this year they will pass an immigration reform, but we know conversations are taking place," said Martinez-Nateras

Valley Congressman George Radanovich says part of the reason reform has stalled is the complexity of the issue. The arguments include whether undocumented immigrant laborers should be part of a guest worker program, whether they should get government health care, and if guest workers should be placed on a path to citizenship.

"We're not sure what's going to come up and when it does and what it's going to look like," said Radanovich, R-Mariposa. "I think I'm fighting to make sure it's just the bare bones of border protection and guest worker."

Political analysts also say immigration is a hot potato issue on Capitol Hill, and since it has the potential to burn politicians, they'd rather just ignore it, even in the face of May Day marches.

"The reality is that you can't ignore this anymore," said Estela Galvan of the Pan Valley Institute. "It's hard to ignore that there are a significant amount of people working in the United States without documents and who are contributing to society."

Activists say the immigration issue is critical in the Central Valley because so many farm workers are undocumented. But they also say the Valley's economic struggles have convinced many workers to leave the state.

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