05/20/07 — Local reactions mixed to Senate immigration proposal

View Archive

Local reactions mixed to Senate immigration proposal

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 20, 2007 2:05 AM

Since a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, reactions have been expectedly mixed.

Even in Wayne County, some feel the proposal smacks too much of amnesty, while others feel it's a step in the right direction.

"To me, it's the best they can probably do at this point," said Gaspar Gonzalez, former county Democratic Party chairman and chairman of the Wayne County Latino Council. "I'm not going to say it's a good idea, but it's a fair idea. It's a start."

The proposal, which was developed with the help of senators from both parties, as well as White House officials, includes provisions for increased border security, a path for current illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens and a new temporary guest worker program.

For many of those opposing such legislation, it is the path toward citizenship that creates the most problems.

"As an attorney and as a citizen, I just think everybody should be held accountable to the law, just like everybody else is," said Billy Strickland, chairman of the county Republican Party. "I have no problem with legal immigration, but this country was founded on the thought that law rules, and the idea of rewarding somebody for doing something illegal -- I just can't get around that."

He also said he sees such a proposal perpetuating the problem of illegal immigration because it allows people to believe that if they wait long enough, another "amnesty" program will eventually be offered.

"In the past we've done this and it does nothing but encourage an illegal act," Strickland said.

Even after the proposed $5,000 fine and the payment of other fees, he continued, the proposal still ultimately awards illegal behavior.

"If I saw the Senate trying to put something through saying if you're here by Jan. 1, 2008, I'd be hightailing it up here," he said. "I don't think this is going to change the illegal immigration problem at all."

Gonzalez, however, sees the proposal, which would take the first step of tightening border security and stiffening employment verification systems, as a move in the right direction.

"We need to do something about this. We need strong borders and we need to stop illegal immigrants from coming in," he said.

But, he continued, the country also needs a realistic way to punish those illegals already here, while still bringing them into society.

"I don't think amnesty is the answer. I don't think it should be a blank check," Gonzalez said. "Everybody's got to pay the piper, as they say, and it'll take a while, but eventually this will bring that community out of the shadows. (Deportation) is a very strong deterrent to coming out of the shadows."

He also spoke agreeably to another disputed provision that would put more of an emphasis on immigrants' higher-end economic skills, rather than their family ties.

"In the U.S. we do not have that big of families," Gonzalez said. "We cannot have those large families coming here. They've got to do something for the economy and they have to adapt to our system."

But, he acknowledged, the debate is a long way from over.

"We've got to come up with a decent answer, but ultimately it all will depend on what the American people really want," Gonzalez said.