Immigration Reform no longer front and center

5/1/2008 Fresno, CA 15,000 people rallied in front of Fresno's city hall in 2006, riding a loud wave toward immigration reform in Washington, D.C. Political scientist Dr. Richard Unruh says that momentum pushed Congress close to passing a reform bill.

"I think Congress listened to that voice," said the Fresno Pacific University professor.

Now, the same leaders are hoping to impact the presidential election.

"The focus is we are going to elect a candidate who is in support of a new legalization campaign," said march organizer Leonel Flores.

But political analysts say the wave seems beached, even though more than 18 million Hispanics could vote in this year's presidential election.

"It's not at the forefront of this election campaign and I think all three candidates have a reason not to have it there," said Unruh.

He says Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both trying to get votes from white, blue collar workers who typically see immigrants as a threat. John McCain could make his Republican base mad by supporting a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already in the United States. All three candidates run the risk of hurting some of the country's biggest businesses by endorsing new laws restricting the work force provided by immigrants who are sometimes illegal.

"If government is going to get too stringent on it, then we're going to have a tremendous economic impact here in the Central Valley," said economist Dr. William Rice.

The Fresno State University professor says a lot of the farms you see in the valley can't survive without humans working the fields. New technology like automatic grape pickers have cut down on the need a little, but they're expensive. And farmers still need people to pick tree fruits and melons. Without immigrants, he says everybody will pay the price.

"Think the price of produce is going up now?" asks Rice. "Wait until that [additional restriction] starts to kick in."

Dr. Unruh says the political climate could favor reform after the presidential election, and after the 700-mile wall of fences is finished along the border. But he says politicians need more motivation than an immigration rally to get behind a new immigration act.

"Demonstrations alone will not revive that legislation," he said. "It will be economic and social factors of other kinds."

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