FOR THE WEEK OF APR 03, 2006
U.S. immigration bill critics take it to the streets
In this nation of immigrants, newspapers work to reflect a wide array of community voices and faces. Invite students to show examples of diverse nationalities from the news and feature pages of recent issues. Discuss benefits from that coverage for readers of all backgrounds.
Opinions about immigration issues are presented in news coverage of protests and from Congress as lawmakers debate changes. But those are not the only voices shared in the newspaper and its web site. Challenge students to find viewpoints on this topic expressed by letter writers, bloggers, editorial writers, columnists and cartoonists. See if anyone wants to submit comments in a Letter to the Editor.
Marches against a crackdown on immigrants were large, colorful, dramatic events guranateed to receive news coverage. Let class members discuss the value and drawbacks of paying attention to "staged" protests designed to attract public and media attention. What ingredients do journalists include in coverage of such events to provide balance and fairness?
Congressional proposals to arrest illegal immigrants and to fortify the Mexican border provoked protests across the nation in recent weeks. Hispanic adults, students and merchants demonstrated in Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, Boston, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco and other cities. About 1,000 people gathered outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C., as a Senate committee worked on immigration legislation last week.
Opposition was sparked by a House-passed bill that would make illegal immigration a felony, up from a civil offense now, and also would make it a crime to help illegal immigrants. "We are not criminals" said demonstrators’ chants and signs. Senators dropped both of those provisions from their version. The bill pending in that part of Congress would clear the way to citizenship for nearly 12 million immigrants already in the United States unlawfully and would make it easier for newcomers to get a “green card” to stay. The Senate measure also would tighten border security and enforce bans against hiring workers who lack immigration documents.
The widespread demonstrations drew attention to the deep emotions behind this election year issue and the high stakes for foreigners living in this country without government permission to stay – including many who are not Hispanic. The issue divides Republicans. Business groups want to legalize undocumented workers, while the party's conservative base strongly opposes illegal immigration.
Immigration critics say: Workers who come from Mexico and other countries without government permission are taking American jobs, eroding U.S. culture and straining schools, hospitals and social agencies supported by state taxpayers. Any “amnesty” plan, which President Bush opposes, rewards illegal immigrants for breaking the law.
Immigration advocates say: Foreign workers fill jobs Americans don’t want and are essential to such industries as agriculture, food service, hospitality, landscaping and construction. Their wages benefit local economies and they are law-abiding because they don’t want to be sent home. Offering a chance to become citizens does not amount to amnesty because immigrants would have to pay a $2,000 fine, wait six years, learn English, hold a job, pass a criminal background check and pay any back taxes.
What’s ahead? A Senate committee voted 12-6 to send its version of the immigration bill to the Senate floor for debate and a vote. Any version that passes then would have to be matched to a new House version for final approval and the president’s signature. "Immigration reform has become a bit like the Mideast peace process -- it's a safe bet that nothing will happen," predicts National Public Radio correspondent Jennifer Ludden. Some Republicans are wary of alienating legal immigrants who are voters, particularly because their party has made inroads among Hispanics.
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