The Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa has entered the immigration reform debate in the US by issuing a six-point reform plan. Mr Villaraigosa has written an article for the politico.com website in which he laid out the bare bones of his plan.
Mr Villaraigosa is a member of President Obama's Democratic Party. Washington insiders say that the President is determined to press ahead with comprehensive immigration reform but, as yet, no details have emerged of any proposed legislation.
In the US, the immigration debate is always dominated by the issue of immigration from Mexico. The Pew Hispanic Center, a think tank which focuses on immigration, has estimated that there are approximately 11m illegal immigrants living in the US. Over half of these are from Mexico.
'No human being is illegal'Mr Villaraigosa was born in Los Angeles and is the son of a Mexican immigrant who became a successful businessman. In 2006, shortly after he became mayor, an estimated one million illegal immigrants marched through Los Angeles to protest against their plight as illegal residents. Mr Villaraigosa addressed the crowd and said 'I don't see any illegals! No human being is illegal. No human being should be illegal!'
This caused a considerable amount of controversy at the time. Mr Villaraigosa wrote in his piece for politico.com 'for too long, Washington has pushed immigration reform off until the next election….Now is the time for us to say enough is enough. When we reform our broken immigration system, we will not only restore the most basic of American covenants we will give this economy a much need shot in the arm.'
Mr Villlaraigosa's proposals are:1. There must be a pathway to permanent resident status for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the US
2. Legal permanent resident status should only be granted to applicants being found to be acceptable after a criminal record check. Immigrants should also have to learn English and undertake to pay any back-taxes that they failed to pay while working illegally.
3. Steps should be taken to reunite families. Mr Villaraigosa said that the US must reform the immigration system to ensure that families do not have to wait, sometimes for up to two decades to be reunited.
4. Economic migration must be reformed. Mr Villaraigosa says that all international students who attain a degree from a US university in one of the STEM subjects should be issued with a green card (permanent resident permit). Many more H-1B non-immigrant work visas should also be granted and there should also be 'effective visa programs for agricultural workers and for low-skilled, non-seasonal workers.
5. There must be an 'effective and efficient employment verification system' which would 'prevent unlawful employment.'
6. The US border must be protected by 'smart enforcement'. Mr Villaraigosa says that 'immigration enforcement takes the lion's share of federal law enforcement spending' and 'net undocumented migration is at or below zero.' He said 'It's time we realize that we will not meet our immigration challenge through enforcement alone.'
No say in WashingtonMr Villaraigosa is a local, California politician and will have no say in the debate in Washington but, as the mayor of one of the US's largest cities, one with a population that is 42% foreign born and 10% illegal, his voice will be heard by participants on all sides.
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