WASHINGTON - Three Arizona Republican lawmakers gathered a group of immigrants on Capitol Hill Wednesday to promote their sweeping reform legislation that could lead to the legalization of millions of undocumented workers.
Acknowledging they face an uphill battle, Sen. John McCain and Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, sought to show their proposed guest-worker program is gaining momentum by releasing a list of about 40 groups across the country that support the plan.
None of the groups at Wednesday’s event represented the most influential organizations within the immigrant community. But they did include individual local union members, members of the clergy and individual immigrants who believe in the lawmakers’ effort.
"This legislation will benefit immigrant workers throughout the United States,’’ Monica Santana, president of the New York-based Latino Workers Center, said through an interpreter. "Being benevolent and having compassion for people when it comes to people who are producing is not a deficit, it’s a virtue.’’
The joint news conference came a day after a new political poll showed a majority of Arizona voters favor this type of immigration reform. The poll of 409 registered voters done earlier this month by KAET-TV (Channel 8) showed 59 percent of those asked like the proposed federal legislation. Another 28 percent were opposed, with the balance undecided.
Those actively opposing the plan include members of Protect Arizona Now, a ballot initiative committee pursuing a new Arizona law that would require local governments to verify immigration status before offering public services.
Committee chairwoman Kathy McKee said the guest-worker bill would provide
amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants instead of closing the nation’s borders.
Protect Arizona Now is planning a news conference today at the state Capitol to unveil a list of its supporters.
The bill would create two visa categories, each of which would last for three years. Those here illegally could get a three-year visa after paying a $1,500 fine. After three years of work, they could apply for the other visa, which would give them another three years of legal residency and a path to eventual legalization and citizenship.
An employment registry would be developed and employers would put available jobs on the registry. After it was proved that no American workers were available for a job, it would be open to foreign workers.
All three lawmakers bristled at the use of the word amnesty. Flake said that would mean that these workers would immediately get legalized and go to the front of the line. Instead, the bill requires a penalty and the sixyear wait before they would be eligible for green cards is far from an amnesty, he said.
"These people are in the United States of America,’’ McCain said. "They’ve been here some of them for generations. This issue has to be addressed.’’
McCain said the three have met with President Bush, who agreed with the broad outlines of their bill. And the lawmakers have also met with officials from the Mexico’s government who have been pushing for a new migration policy since Mexico’s President Vicente Fox was elected two years ago.
But the bill has some powerful opposition from both ends of the political spectrum.
John Gay, co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a business and labor group that has been promoting reform for several years, said the bill contains the elements his group supports but they are troubled by the lack of Democratic support.
"Policy-wise they are on the right track,’’ Gay said. "Politically, it has to be a bipartisan bill to go anywhere.’’
Kolbe acknowledged that people such as Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and House immigration subcommittee chairman Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., both need to be convinced of the bill’s merit.
- Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.