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Crowley urges reform of immigration laws

"We saw how controversial this issue was in 2006," he told dozens of immigrants and advocates gathered at a town hall meeting in Jackson Heights Saturday. "It will be too hot a subject to debate in a presidential election year."Crowley said the new Democratic Congress will start from scratch and that last year's failed compromise, the bipartisan McCain-Kennedy proposal to create a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, will not necessarily be the starting point.Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the country, is home to immigrants from all parts of the world.Despite calls from Bush for a new immigration policy, Republican leaders in Congress last session stalled efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform - that is, to deal with border security and the way immigrants come to this country and at the same time address the status of the illegal immigrants already in the country.Crowley said he favors giving undocumented workers in America a path to citizenship and opposes plans that would deport them, saying such proposals are both impractical and cruel to families that are broken up."I actually am for an amnesty," he said. "I believe that that's the way we can address this quickly and easily and with less hassle for the government" and for those receiving amnesty. He said he supports putting immigrants already in the United States in the pipeline for legal status behind others waiting in their home countries.Any reform bill with a chance to pass into law will likely be a compromise, however, between liberal proposals like Crowley's and those who want more concessions, like fines for immigrants who came illegally."I guess he will try to balance what we want with what he can get from other parties in the negotiation of this legislation," said Manuel Castro, the lead organizer for the Latin American Integration Center. The center sponsored the town hall, which was presented in Spanish and English, at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights.Many at the meeting implored Crowley to relay their plight to others in Congress and build support for fair and humane reforms."We are not criminals. We are humble people who have come here to make a better living," one man told him through a translator.Amid a list of related issues to tackle - more health services in other languages, access to education and renegotiated trade agreements - Crowley pledged to work for the immigration reform that went nowhere last session."I do think that this is an issue of justice, of dignity, of respect for people who love this country as much as I do," he said.Reach reporter John Tozzi by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext. 174.

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