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Pawlenty shows a softer stance on immigration Print E-mail

Seven initiatives encourage legal methods

BY BILL SALISBURY
Pioneer Press

Taking a carrot-and-stick approach to the immigration issue, Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday showed his kinder, gentler side, offering to help legal immigrants land jobs, learn English and become citizens.

This comes after Pawlenty's proposal last week for a crackdown on illegal immigration sparked controversy among many immigrant communities. Thursday's announcement — which included seven initiatives to promote legal immigration — drew both praise and skepticism from members of immigrant groups.

"We want to continue to … encourage legal immigration that is good for Minnesota and good for America," the Republican governor said.

But the immigration system must be legal, orderly and above ground, he said.

To encourage more foreigners to move to Minnesota legally, he proposed measures to attract more physicians, high-tech workers and overseas investors and help for immigrants already here to start businesses.

"One of the great benefits of immigration is the incredible in-migration of talent, energy, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit," he said. "So we benefit mightily as a state and as a nation when people with those kinds of skills and background come to our country. We want to encourage more of that."

The initiatives marked a change in tone for the governor. Since December, when he issued a controversial report on the costs — but not the benefits — of illegal immigration, he has focused on the problems caused by immigrants.

That prompted angry reactions from some immigrant groups, who said he was stirring a backlash against legal newcomers as well as lawbreakers. Democrats accused the governor of using illegal immigration as a "wedge issue" to stir up passions in his conservative political base as he seeks re-election this year.

Pawlenty consistently has said that he wants to encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration. Thursday was the first time he offered policy initiatives on the encouraging side of that equation.

After the news conference, some Latino leaders said Pawlenty had taken an important step in the right direction.

"We have to give the governor a lot of credit for starting a conversation about the need for thoughtful immigration reform in Minnesota and the nation," said Jesse Bethke Gomez, president of CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio). He said the governor's initiatives were a step toward using immigration to address looming economic issues.

He doesn't believe Pawlenty's proposals were politically motivated. "This isn't a Democratic or Republican issue; it's an American issue," he said.

Rick Aguilar, a St. Paul businessman, Metropolitan Council member and Republican activist, said, "We're hoping that with this initiative and the support of the governor that more Latinos will become legal and will be able to benefit and live a great life here in Minnesota."

But a Latina leader who was not invited to the news conference said Pawlenty's proposals would benefit only a small fraction of immigrants in the state.

"It's good that the governor is trying to do something positive to create legal paths of immigration," said Alison Quito Ziegler, interim director of the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network. "But the governor's proposal doesn't fully address the breadth of immigrants in Minnesota, the majority of whom are working in agriculture and the meatpacking industry."

Pawlenty proposed seven steps to help immigrants who "play by the rules" that would cost the state about $5 million a year. He would:

• Provide a tax credit of $300 per family to encourage immigrants to become citizens. The credit, for families earning less than $30,000 a year, would offset the costs of English language classes and citizenship application fees. It would cost $1.7 million and benefit about 15,000 families annually.

• Offer "financial literacy" to immigrants by providing basic information on financial and business institutions through a partnership with the Itasca Project, a coalition of CEOs of the state's largest corporations and public officials. The service would inform immigrants about such topics as income tax credits, home ownership opportunities and business start-up suggestions.

• Push the federal government to grant more visas to graduates of U.S. colleges and universities and green cards for immigrants with high-technology skills. Pawlenty said he would go to Washington next month to lobby key members of Congress on this issue.

• Invite foreign business investment in Minnesota by offering "immigrant investor visas." They would allow foreign investors to reside and do business in the state if they invest at least $500,000 in new or existing businesses, create at least 10 new jobs for U.S. workers or maintain the current level of employment at a struggling business. The investment would have to be in a "regional center" designated by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

• Establish a $3 million grant program for employers who provide English language instruction to their employees.

• Expand the number of foreign physicians working in underserved areas, especially in rural Minnesota. Last year, the state used 21 of the 30 waivers available to the state for foreign medical doctors.

• Increase immunizations for immigrants, especially for hepatitis B and tuberculosis, at an annual cost of $500,000.

Bill Salisbury can be reached at bsalisbury@pioneerpress.com.

 

 
GOP backs Bush on guest-worker plan Print E-mail
 By Stephen Dinan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
January 21, 2006

The Republican National Committee voted yesterday to back President Bush's call for a guest-worker program.

    Meeting a few blocks from the White House at the Capital Hilton, the umbrella organization of the Republican Party adopted a resolution that calls for continued legal immigration, criticizes illegal immigration and endorses a new work program for foreign workers. However, the resolution states there should be "no amnesty for those persons presently in the United States illegally."

    "The question is not 'Is there an issue?' -- the question is 'How you deal with it?' and I think we have to deal with it in a comprehensive way -- we don't have to deal with it in a way that's anti-immigrant," said party Chairman Ken Mehlman, who said the resolution "reflected where the president was."

    The resolution, adopted by voice vote, was a major victory for Mr. Mehlman and headed off a divisive vote on an alternate resolution that would have put the party on record as opposing a guest-worker program, thus at odds with Mr. Bush.

    Randy Pullen, Arizona's committeeman, had gained enough signatures from fellow RNC members to force a vote on a version that specifically opposed a guest-worker program. But after the pro-guest worker resolution passed Mr. Pullen withdrew his plan from the floor.

    "Sometimes you've got to know when you've lost and move on," Mr. Pullen said afterward. He said he was not pressured to withdraw his resolution. He was the only RNC member to say "no" during the vote on the pro-guest worker resolution.

    He said he has yet to see a guest-worker plan that doesn't amount to amnesty, and said Mr. Bush has his work cut out for him trying to explain how he can craft such a plan.

    "The president wants a guest-worker program -- if that's what he thinks needs to be done, he's going to have to articulate to the Republican Party exactly what that plan means. I haven't heard it yet," he said.

    Mr. Mehlman said amnesty "would mean that people who have broken the law are not punished for breaking the law."

    He said that bills in Congress "have different definitions," but said Mr. Bush and the Republican Party oppose amnesty because "the effect of that would be to say people who have waited in line [that they] have to wait behind people who haven't waited in line."

    Some Republicans have said the president has sent mixed messages on the issue, because in 2004 he said his plan would "preserve the citizenship path" for illegal aliens.

    The House last month passed an immigration-enforcement bill that did not include a guest-worker program. The Senate is expected to take up immigration legislation early this year, and leaders expect it will contain some sort of guest-worker program and possibly a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

    Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and a major opponent of a guest-worker program, said yesterday's RNC vote signals a tough fight ahead.

    "The RNC's failure to pass a get-tough border security resolution shows the extent to which the White House will use strong-arm tactics to secure an amnesty," he said. "If this is any preview of what the president will do with the House bill, he should prepare himself for one heck of a fight."

    Mr. Pullen circulated his resolution last year and obtained nine co-sponsors from different states -- enough to bypass the party's Resolutions Committee and force the resolution directly to a full floor vote. Fearing that, other Republicans crafted the pro guest-worker resolution as an alternative.

    Saulius "Saul" Anuzis, committeeman from Michigan, said the specifics of an immigration solution should be left to the lawmakers.

    "The president has made it very clear where he wants to go, and I think we as the Republican National Committee owe it to the president and Congress to come up with a resolution that is broad enough and states the principle we stand for, to allow the legislative process to work it out," he said.
 
Farm Bureau Begins Fight Against House Immigration Bill Print E-mail
The American Farm Bureau Federation is mounting a campaign to stop a border security bill passed by the House that it says would hurt fruit and vegetable growers and production in the United States.

Enforcement provisions requiring all companies to verify their workers are not illegal immigrants would cause a decline of $5 billion to $9 billion annually, force one-third of fruit and vegetable producers out of business and increase labor costs on the remaining farms by $1.5 billion to $5 billion, the group said. It also would lead grocers to stock foreign fruits and vegetables instead of production, it added. Sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner, the measure passed the House, 239-182, last month.

The Farm Bureau and other farm groups have urged Congress to pass a bill that would both provide legal status to immigrant farm workers and improve border enforcement. But passage of the bill appears to have put the Farm Bureau, the nation's largest farm group, in a position of stopping that bill above all else. In an analysis of the bill released at its annual convention in Nashville last week, the Farm Bureau took an unusually confrontational tone with Congress.

"If federal legislation is enacted that fails to take into account the unique needs of agriculture -- which include our increasing dependence on hired labor, our extreme vulnerability to competitively priced foreign-grown produce and our inability either to absorb cost increases or pass those on -- we will watch as Congress takes literally billions of dollars out of the pockets of farmers and sends it to our competitors overseas," the analysis said.

Austin Perez, the bureau's director of congressional relations, said Tuesday that if the Sensenbrenner bill passes, farmers would have to fire half their workers "overnight." Perez said there are about 850,000 farm workers in the during the peak fruit and vegetable picking season. Labor Department investigators have found that about 50 percent of the workers are illegal, Perez said farmers believe the figure is even higher.

   Perez said Farm Bureau members hire workers only with documents, but they do not have the ability to check their legal status. Perez said Farm Bureau favors parts of immigration and border security bills sponsored by Senate Agriculture Chairman Chambliss and Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, but believes those bills need to be combined to provide both a reliable supply of farm labor and stricter border enforcement.

 
Endorsement from Attorney Rajiv Khanna Print E-mail
As many of you might have known, a number of Volunteers of Immigration Voice recently travelled to Washington DC to discuss the next steps for our organizations with many lobbyists. During our visit we were also fortunate to meet with Attorney Rajiv Khanna, a top immigration lawyer and the owner of the website ImmigrationPortal.com

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ImmigrationVoice Meeting in Washington D.C. - Jan 14th and 15th Print E-mail

At the outset, I would like to thank the other participants for spending so much of their personal time and money in this effort in making a channelized approach to our lawmakers. The participants - WaldenPond, EB_Retrogression, StuckLabor, Sandeep, LogicLife, GCBronco, BlackLogs, Vin_A_99 - flew in from as far away as FL, GA, NV and KS and the rest made a long drive from PA & NJ to attend this 2 day meeting.

The objective was to meet with a lobbyist used by ISN (Rick Swartz) over the weekend (Jan 14th and 15th) . Mr. Swartz was kind enough to spare a lot of his time to explain to us his insights gained over 30 years of being in this field. We also had the benefit of meeting reputed people in this field like Denyse Sabagh (ex AILA general counsel and chair of legislative advocacy committee), Bo Cooper (ex General Counsel of the INS) and Judy Golub (ex Senior Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs at AILA) during this meeting.

We also had an opportunity to meet a prominent immigration lawyer Mr Rajiv Khanna whose portal - http://boards.immigrationportal.com - is one of the most frequented sites by the immigration community. It was really encouraging to get his support and guidance for immigrationvoice and we are really thankfull for his insights

We had a wealth of information, ideas and insights communicated to us by the people mentioned above. After this process of gathering inputs, we are currently evaluating the options and negotiating so as to arrive at an optimum arrangement representative of our needs and resources. A consistent message that has come across in all these meetings is not doing anything is the worst thing we can do.

Another point which has been consistently highlighted is the lack of resources - almost all of these lobbying efforts would involve a minimum of 25k upfront retainer fees at the minimum followed by an amount close to about 100k at the end of about a month. Hence we ask you to contribute and encourage friends, acquaintances, relatives who are in a similar position or have gone through this traumatic experience to contribute soon. If a thousand people contribute $100 each, we will reach our target. $100 is a lot of money but in the bigger scheme of things, it is twice the average monthly cable bill, and if we win our fight, it will have a lot more positive impact on our lives than cable does.

 
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