Queens members of Congress helped to lead the push for national immigration reform last week, co-sponsoring legislation to legalize millions of undocumented individuals that has drawn praise from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, foreign workers and immigrant rights activists in the borough.
U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood), Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) were four of the more than 87 co-sponsors of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) Dec. 15.
“We believe part of our effort to pull the country out of the economic doldrums has to include immigration reform,” Weiner said. “We need to make sure we encourage this work force to come out of the shadows.”
The bill, which has come under fire from some Republican lawmakers, seeks to legalize undocumented individuals by requiring them to prove they have been working, register with the government, learn English, undergo a criminal background check and pay a $500 fine, among other steps.
Should an individual meet all the requirements, he or she would be able to receive a six-year visa and then a green card. The recipient also would be able to travel throughout and outside the country.
The act would funnel more funds into training and equipment for border guards and require the U.S. Homeland Security Department to improve immigration jails.
“New York City’s greatest strength has always been its diversity, and the contributions made by New York’s immigrant communities have driven America’s economic engine for generations,” Bloomberg said. “Today, however, our immigration laws are broken, hurting our economy and many immigrant families. A comprehensive solution is urgently needed.”
Make the Road NY, a nonprofit that works with immigrants throughout the city, said the act would test President Barack Obama’s and the Democratic majority’s commitment to Latino voters.
“As we approach the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, in which Latinos played a crucial role in key battleground states across the nation, we look forward to working with the president and our allies in Congress to not only start a debate about this very important issue, but also to pass immigration reform that will help our country grow economically.”
Jackson Heights resident Marco Soto said he supports the reform proposal.
“You could work with no problem, that’s a good thing,” said Soto, who moved from Ecuador to the United States 15 years ago. “We could travel and have our own businesses. Immigrants have a lot of money, but they can’t invest it because they’re not legal.”
Angilito Gutama, also originally from Ecuador, said he would be thrilled if the act passed because he could then see his two daughters, ages 15 and 11, who are in his home country. Gutama moved to Queens in 2005 and is studying law at the Universidad Particular Tecnica de Loja in Jamaica Estates, a school that helps immigrants earn degrees.
“The country’s economy would be better if people had papers because everybody would then pay taxes,” said Gutama, who lives in Queens but did not want to specify which part of the borough. “The immigrants in this country, we are working hard.”
U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has sponsored immigration legislation with Gutierrez before, said he was “troubled by the weakened legislative requirements in the Gutierrez bill.”
Flake said he would like to see more stringent requirements, such as a higher fine and a touchback provision that would require undocumented immigrants to first return to their home countries before being able to come back to the United States.
Still, Gutierrez said he believes he has the bipartisan support needed for this act to pass in the House.
“The immigrant blame game wants us to forget that immigrants are just people,” Gutierrez said. “Not statistics. Non anonymous. Not perfect. Not evil. Just people trying to do their best. But immigrants are different in one important way. They desperately want something that far too many of us take for granted. They want to be Americans. This bill is the right way to allow these people to reach their dreams.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson
©2009 Community News Group
By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:
You agree that you, and not TimesLedger.com or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to TimesLedger.com the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.