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June 12, 2006

GOP at center stage of immigration drama
Political debate getting hotter in time for midterm elections

By Brendan Scott
Times Herald-Record
Washington - The next act in the national drama over immigration reform puts the House of Representatives at center stage. That leaves House Republicans, like the mid-Hudson's own Rep. Sue Kelly, under the hot lights.

The six-term congresswoman from Katonah was among 239 House members who voted for an immigration bill last year that would penalize employers for hiring undocumented workers and make an estimated 11 million illegal residents felons.

Any hope of winning immigration reform this year rests on whether that hard-line bill can be reconciled with Senate legislation that would create a guest-worker program and allow some longtime illegal immigrants to become citizens.

The Senate bill more closely mirrors the immigration policy laid out by President Bush.

But the Republicans who control the House show no signs of backing down. Neither does Kelly, who, in a recent interview, equated the key Senate provisions to outright amnesty.

"There are literally thousands of people coming into this country illegally every single day - thousands. We've got to stop it," Kelly said. "First, we secure the border. Then, we can talk about all of the rest of this stuff."

Such lines in the sand are being drawn over the charged political landscape of midterm elections. Many Republican House members hope their firm stand on immigration will help them weather the most serious threat to the GOP majority in more than a decade. Kelly herself currently has six Democratic challengers.

Pundits credit hard-line immigration policies for preserving Republican control of the San Diego congressional seat vacated by disgraced Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham through a special election last Tuesday.

But that result clashed with a national poll released last week that showed growing acceptance of newcomers. The Associated Press-Ipsos poll found 52 percent of Americans saw immigrants as an asset, a 10-point rise over May 2004.

Despite such barometers, few expect any immigration compromise resembling the Senate bill to pass the more partisan House.

The wild card is President Bush, says Angela Kelley of the National Immigration Forum, a think tank that backs a more open immigration policy.

"If he weighs in heavy and exerts a lot of muscle, he could roll the House," Kelley said.

"Then, you could see where moderate Republicans and Democrats can unite in the House like they did in the Senate."

Democratic candidates sound off on the issueJudy Aydelott, Katonah"We must secure our borders but permit law-abiding, hardworking, English-speaking immigrants a pathway to citizenship. Sue Kelly wants immigrants deported. There is a better way. We must partner with local organizations like Neighbors Link in Westchester to integrate immigrants into the community."John Hall, Dover Plains"I oppose the Kelly-supported House bill because of its punitive nature. I will be a strong voice for a path to citizenship, a program of earned legalization, and a visiting worker program with standards that prevent exploitation for visiting workers and American workers. This must be accompanied by enhanced border control and application processing."Jim Martorano, Yorktown"Sue Kelly, in supporting the House's regressive immigration bill, has once again failed her district and the nation. This reactionary bill makes it a felony to be here illegally and thereby criminalized an entire population of 12 million. I support a progressive bill that would allow productive illegal immigrants a path to citizenship."Darren Rigger, Peekskill"As a Latino, I am offended that Kelly voted for a bill that targets only Latinos under the guise of national security. A fence along the Mexican border would not have stopped the 9/11 terrorists that came into our country through Canada and JFK Airport."Ben Shuldiner, Crompond"Politicians must stop running scared from this issue. I want to attack it head-on. Comprehensive immigration reform would improve border security, reaffirm the rule of law, protect American workers from illegal labor competition, strengthen our economy, and give immigrants a clearer path to citizenship."Gary Suraci, Wappingers Falls"Sue Kelly's and all politicians' lack of addressing the immigration issue illustrates their commitment to keeping it a status quo issue. Instead of making it a felony for the immigrants, make it a felony for the employer who hires them."