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Illegal immigration issue standoff likely to linger

Videotape and photos of immigrants illegally streaming across an unprotected American border became a memorable image from several political campaigns this fall.

Republican candidates sought to draw attention to the immigration issue in the hope of passing legislation to stem illegal immigration and return undocumented workers already in the U.S.

But as Congress adjourned this fall, there was no movement on the issue, despite it dominating discussion during the last weeks of the session.

Yet the issue stirred up several fiery protests in Milwaukee during the past year by Hispanic groups seeking to head off Republican efforts and also seeking a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country without being citizens. But that path was not cleared either.

So are those Hispanic groups happy to have avoided the GOP efforts or frustrated by the lack of movement on citizenship?

Yolanda Santos-Adams, state director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, known as LULAC, said she feared the Congressional actions this term might have been worse because of anti-Hispanic attitudes. She said the situation in Wisconsin is not much better.

"A large majority of people in Wisconsin are anti-immigrant," Santos-Adams told OnMilwaukee.com. "Wisconsin does not have a lot of Latinos, compared to other states, and all the attention has been focusing on Mexican immigrants. I belief an overwhelming majority of voters might want undocumented workers to even be sent back across the border."

Santos-Adams hopes to use this temporary respite in the battle to help inform people that immigrants are not a drain on the economy but a boon to it.

Citing government and business sources, she said that undocumented workers pay $7 billion into Social Security and $1.5 billion into Medicare annually yet will receive none of the benefits from either program. She said the Social Security Administration also estimates that 78 percent of those workers pay income tax.

Santos said while there are only a small number of illegal immigrant workers in Wisconsin, the group was alarmed that attorney-general elect J.B. Van Hollen used the issue during his campaign, saying he would work to send those workers back across the border.

"We're concerned because Van Hollen holds these anti-immigrant beliefs and has gotten into a powerful position," she said.

Santos-Adams said she was afraid the issue has not simply gone away.

"I'm pretty sure it will come up again," she said, citing the willingness Republicans in Congress to use the issue to help energize its core supporters.

"So I don't think there is a serious fear that they feel the need to do this quickly," she said. "It's just causing people to spend a lot of time worrying about borders and undocumented workers."

If U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has his way, the issue will certainly be revisited in the next session. But Ryan acknowledged that would be much more difficult with the Congress controlled by Democrats after the Nov. 7 elections.

"The entire immigration system has broken down," Ryan said. "We will try top pick up where we left but that will be tougher with a (politically) divided government."

Ryan said he would like to see a focus on "securing our borders and working on a guest worker program."

He added, "We might have to take care of this issue one piece at a time. But some kind of an amnesty program is a non-starter. And (Republicans) still have the votes to stop something like that."

So it appears the standoff will continue for at least the foreseeable future.

Talkbacks

SyTwinLakes | Dec. 19, 2006 at 1:38 p.m. (report)

Ms Adams makes some telling points. Many anti-immigrant Americans base their argument on the unfairness of people coming over the border illegally, not waiting in line. They should read Laura Fernandez' recent article on how impossible it is for an average or poor Mexican to gain legal access. Waiting in line is a recipe for non-admittance.

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mitchgat | Dec. 18, 2006 at 9:08 a.m. (report)

Great post Mkelvr!!

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mkelvr | Dec. 17, 2006 at 6:10 p.m. (report)

Wisconsin and specificaaly Milwaukee is NOT ant-immigrant. However, there is a BIG difference between legal & illegal immigrant. Yolanda Santos-Adams is trying to confuse people. I am a legal immigrant, and followed all the steps to get here and eventually become a US citizen. Its difficult and time consuming. But I did not BREAK the law to get here. Just because you can break into someones house does not give you the right to be there, no matter what you are paying into the system with stolen social security numbers! We need to finf a way to make legal immigration easier & illegal immigration harder.

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