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Things to do in a Lame Duck Congress
by The Law Offices of Cyrus D. Mehta

Weeks after the presidential election, it is still not clear whether the next President will be George Bush or Al Gore. If Bush becomes President, would he translate campaign rhetoric into reality and succeed in steering the Republican Party away from the restrictionist forces that have held sway for so long? We also wonder if a President Gore would include a pro-immigration agenda as one of his top priorities.

Just as who the next President of the United States will be is unclear, so too is the outcome of two important bills in the lame duck 106th Congress.

The Latino and Immigrant Fairness Act (LIFA), which would create amnesty and restore 245(i), hangs in balance as well as H.R. 5062, which will allow people with former convictions to apply for relief against deportation. It is largely Democrats who have supported these two measures.

Republican control in the 107th Congress is also likely to diminish. If Bush becomes President, the Senate will split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. If Gore becomes President, the Republicans will have 51 seats in the Senate and the Democrats 49 seats. In either of these two scenarios, it is clear that the elections did not create a mandate for either party and both parties would need to stop bickering and get things done on the immigrant front.

This is because the votes of new citizens are becoming important and were supportive to Democratic candidates in the past election. A polling study shows that Republican opposition to LIFA ended up hurting George Bush and Republicans in high profile House races. George Bush's outreach to the Hispanic community had been paying off until his opposition to LIFA cut into his support among Latinos during the final days of the campaign.

Overall, Latinos nationally supported Gore 62%, versus Bush 35%. The Asian-Pacific American vote shows similar trends. In a poll conducted in Southern California, it was found that 62% of Asian-Pacific Americans voted for Gore, while 35% voted for Bush.

It is, therefore, important that new citizens continue to vote according to the candidate's position on immigration policy. Restrictionists will continue their efforts, even though public opinion has become more favorable to immigrants. A recent survey undertaken by the Service Employees International Union found that a majority of voters believe that immigration is critical to sustaining America's economic prosperity and that a large part of the nation's success is owed to the diversity that comes with immigration. Restrictionists will however continue to try to link immigration negatively to quality-of-life issues that Americans hold dear, such as environment, urban sprawl, and education. All this negativity must be countered with effective advocacy and our votes in elections. Since the last election, our elected representatives must realize by now that each and every one of our votes is precious.

About The Author

Cyrus D. Mehta, a graduate of Cambridge University and Columbia Law School, practices immigration law in New York City. He is Vice Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association's National Labor Department Liaison Committee, trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation and recipient of the 1997 Joseph Minsky Young Lawyers Award. He is also Chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the Association of the City Bar of New York. He frequently lectures on various immigration subjects at legal seminars, workshops and universities and may be contacted at 212-686-1581 or