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Advocates Praise Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation Call for Enactment of "Down Payments" This Year

May 4, 2004

Washington, DC - The National Immigration Forum joined advocates, labor leaders, and community groups across the country in praising new comprehensive immigration reform legislation unveiled today in Washington. The new bill, the Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement Act of 2004 or SOLVE Act, introduced at a Capitol Hill press conference by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representatives Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), would go a long way toward fixing our broken immigration system.

"Everyone in the country, be they native born or immigrant, knows that our immigration system is in desperate need of repair," said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum. "This bill promises to rewrite the rules so that they can be fairly and evenly enforced across the board."

Sharry said the bill will reunite families by reducing the years of family separation caused by a backlogged bureaucracy and unduly restrictive laws. It will reward the hard work of immigrants who are in the U.S., raising families, paying taxes, and learning English, eager for a chance to earn legal residency over time and get on the path to citizenship. It respects workers by reducing exploitation and downward wage pressures by creating a "break-the-mold" worker visa program that protects the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers, and provides equal rights to immigrant workers admitted in the future. Finally, Sharry said the bill will reduce illegal immigration by devising fair and reasonable rules that are realistic and enforceable.

"This bill will, over time, replace a chaotic, deadly, and illegal flow of exploitable workers and desperate family members with a safe, orderly, and legal flow of workers with full labor rights and family members with legal immigrant visas," Sharry said.

The new legislation marks a new chapter in immigration reform. From the President's speech in January through the introduction of this legislation, it is clear that both parties are now ready to get serious about reform. Sharry noted that the strong support for this legislation from the American labor movement is a sign of major progress. Add to that the support that American businesses and trade associations have demonstrated for earned legalization, and the necessary ingredients for bipartisan reform seem to be taking shape. He cautioned, however, that comprehensive immigration reform legislation is unlikely to pass before Election Day.

"The shape of the immigration reform debate has been defined," Sharry said. "We've moved beyond tired notions of building a big wall around the country or deporting 10 million workers and their families. Immigration is an overwhelmingly positive feature of America's history and will remain so in the future. This bill recognizes that managing immigration fairly and effectively makes more sense than our current policy of trying to overly suppress immigration and drive it underground."

Sharry said that while the President and Congress were unlikely to negotiate and agree on a comprehensive reform package this year, they each could demonstrate their sincerity by enacting the AgJOBS and DREAM Act bills already under consideration and with wide bipartisan support. AgJOBS, which would legalize some farmworkers and streamline existing temporary worker programs, has the support of business and labor and, with 60 Senate co-sponsors, seems poised for passage. The DREAM Act puts undocumented students who came here as children on a path to legal residency, so they can work legally and without fear of deportation. It also enjoys support on both sides of the political aisle, and could be passed this year if leaders in each party made it a priority.

"AgJOBS and DREAM would serve as a good down payment on comprehensive immigration reform," Sharry said. "It would show the country that Congress and the President are serious about reform and willing to roll up their sleeves and work out their differences to get good policies passed."

Sharry said passage of these measures this year would "set the table" for comprehensive reform, along the lines of the new bill introduced today, to happen next year.

"The fact that there are rallies and press conferences supporting this bill in about 30 cities shows the groundswell of support across the country for fixing our broken immigration system," Sharry said. "Labor, religious, ethnic, and community leaders have been waiting for a serious, comprehensive piece of legislation to mobilize their constituencies and who will make their voices heard. The SOLVE Act fits the bill."

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