September 13, 2008

McCain, Obama avoid talk of immigration reform

By Ramon Bracamontes / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 09/13/2008 04:19:04 PM MDT

EL PASO - As the presidential race heads toward Nov. 4, both candidates continue to avoid talking about immigration and immigration reform - a politically-charged national issue that has real life implications in El Paso and other border cities.

Whether the strategy of avoiding this topic helps Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is unknown, but the issue is one which will have to be dealt with by whoever wins the general election in November, experts said.

"it is an issue they are both trying to avoid," said Eli M. Kantor, a California immigration lawyer. "Both candidates are pretty much pro-immigration reform however it is not a popular issue to talk about right now."

The reason immigration reform isn't popular on the campaign trail is because people on both sides of the debate have very strong opinions, experts said. Those who live along the border and who have current family members who might be here illegally want families to be reunited and for all immigrants to be treated humanely.

But, those who live in others parts of the country want the border secure, they want immigration eliminated and they put homeland security issues first, said Kantor, who is the media liaison for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"It is easier right now to just talk about securing the borders," Kantor said. "The candidates have to appeal to all the voters, so they don't want to alienate anyone on either side of the issue."

During President

Bush's Administration several attempts at passing an immigration reform bill died. Bush's immigration reform bill increased security along the border, while at the same time fining businesses that hired undocumented workers, which upset some people.
The bill was disliked by others because it had a guest-worker program and it gave some those in the U.S. illegally the ability to become naturalized citizens.

"Most of us come here to work and get better, not to do any harm," said Rigo Orozco, who was outside the Border Farm Workers Center in South El Paso this week. "If there was a way for me to work and stay here, I would do it."

It is estimated that anywhere from 12 to 20 million people are working in the United States illegally.

An economic study issued earlier this year by Americans for Immigration Reform stated that the U.S economy could lose nearly $1.8 trillion a year if undocumented workers left the country. Texas, which has an undocumented immigrant population of about 1.4 million, could lose more than $220 million if all undocumented workers were ousted.

"The system has been broken for a while now and only a political band-aid has been put on it," said University of Texas at El Paso political science professor Charles Boehmer. "The new president will have to tackle the issue. No one is happy with the status quo."

Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who has been working for years to improve the trade corridor between Mexico and the U.S. because it directly affects El Paso and its people, said the problem must be addressed soon.

"What we need, what the country needs is a comprehensive framework," Shapleigh said. "The right talks about walls. The left talks about fair trade. But all these issues are linked. Security is linked to trade; trade is linked to labor; labor is the key to prosperity. And all these issues need to be on the table if we are to succeed."

But, Shapleigh, too, sees that both candidates are trying to avoid the issue while on the campaign trail.

"Both parties need a dose of courage," he said. "Obama knows that a comprehensive framework is the key - but will not deal realistically with free trade. McCain lost his courage when he veered right to win his primary. If these guys want to lead, now is the time for leadership."

Prior to being the Republican party nominee, McCain teamed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to sponsor a comprehensive immigration bill. The bill allowed employers to hire foreigners under a temporary visa program if they can prove they are unable to hire American workers for the same job and it allowed workers to stay in the United States.

While the immigration reform package did not pass, it shows that McCain has a clear concept of what he wants to do with the issue, said Michael Moore, chairman of the El Paso Republican Party.

"Sen. McCain knows where the border is and he has been here several times," Moore said. "He has the experience in Congress to solve the issue and he knows what the problem is and how to fix it."

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at; 546-6142.

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