Edward Sifuentes, NCTimes.com (CA), May 4
SAN DIEGO — Local illegal immigrant workers said Tuesday that new immigration legislation proposed by congressional Democrats could give them a better future by helping them become legal.
Many of the workers were labor union members who attended a meeting in San Diego in support of the Safe, Orderly, Legal Visas and Enforcement Act, which is sponsored by Democratic Party leaders, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
The bill, which was introduced in Congress on Tuesday, would give permanent legal residency to millions of illegal immigrants living in the country.
“I have struggled to get an education and graduate from high school with honors,” said Cecilia Torres, 18, of San Diego, who arrived from Mexico illegally when she was 9 years old. “But because I don’t have a Social Security number, I can’t get financial aid for college, I can’t get the career I want and even if I could, I can’t work.”
Torres was among a half-dozen women who were asked by union leaders with the Service Employees International Union, Local 1877, to share their experiences of living and working illegally in the country. The union represents 25,000 janitors in the state, including downtown San Diego.
The San Diego City College student added: “There are many people who are in my situation. This law would give us hope.”
Supporters of the Democratic plan admitted it has little chance of becoming law in such a politicized election year, but they said they wanted to give voters an alternative to President Bush’s proposal.
“These are the things we want,” said Mike Wilzoch, San Diego director of the Service Employees International Union, who helped organize the event. “We must elevate the debate so that we can have a more logical immigration policy.”
Democratic leaders unveiled the legislation in Washington, D.C., as a counteroffer to Bush’s immigration overhaul plan, which he outlined earlier this year. The president’s plan would temporarily legalize millions of illegal immigrant workers, but would not provide a path to permanent residency.
Under the Democrats’ new plan, illegal immigrants who have been in the country five years or more and have proof of at least two years of employment would be eligible to become legal residents. And they would be allowed to bring close family members.
The proposal would also create a guest-worker program allowing up to 350,000 immigrant workers to come to the country for jobs.
Conservative Republicans criticized the president’s plan as a ploy to attract Latino voters and said they likely will oppose the Democrats’ more immigrant-friendly legislation.
“When you start pandering for votes, you can’t outpander the Democrats,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican.
“No matter what (President Bush) would have proposed, they would have proposed something more extreme in the hope that they would win back whatever voters they think they may have lost to the president,” he said.