Thursday, September 16, 2010

Republicans Call Reid's Immigration Proposal a Political Ploy

Republicans dismissed as a political ploy Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's announcement Tuesday that he would attach a proposal giving young illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship on an upcoming defense bill.

With Reid facing a tough election against Sharron Angle in Hispanic-heavy Nevada, lawmakers criticized the majority leader for adding the so-called DREAM Act to the defense bill. They accused him of injecting unnecessary controversy into the routine spending bill for political gain.

"The Dream Act should be a part of comprehensive immigration reform. Adding it to the Defense Authorization, which already contains an unwarranted repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' is cynical and transparently political," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a written statement.

The Nevada Republican Party described the move as "desperate political parlor games that could only come from a 28-year establishment Democrat seeking a fifth term in the U.S. Senate."

But the DREAM Act has been floating around Capitol Hill since last year and, in the absence of a comprehensive immigration overhaul, Reid said he hoped he could marshal the votes.

Reid blamed Republicans for the inability to pass a sweeping immigration reform bill. "I've tried to. I've tried so very, very hard, but those Republicans we've had in the last Congress have left us," he said, referring to Republican senators who previously supported an immigration overhaul.

The DREAM Act would allow young people who attend college or join the military to become legal U.S. residents. The young people must have come to the country when they were under 16 years of age and have been in the country five years. Those who join the military must serve at least two years and complete two years of college.

Those who qualify would be granted conditional residency and after nearly six years would be able to apply for permanent residency. From there, they could apply for citizenship. By offering military service as a pathway to citizenship, the U.S. government also would be opening the door for the medical and education benefits military service entails, a potentially attractive deal for would-be recruits.

Asked about the proposal Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama would continue to support it. "The administration is supportive of that legislation. The previous administration was supportive of that legislation. And certainly it's our hope that, working with Congress, we can see progress on that," Gibbs said. "And none of that will ... replace what has to happen from a comprehensive level and a comprehensive perspective to deal with the issues around immigration reform."

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell described the immigration measure, as well as a proposal to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from serving openly in the military, as "extraneous." "It made it needlessly controversial," McConnell said, declining to comment on either proposal's chances for passage.


Australia: Only 75 asylum seekers rejected since 2008

THE Federal Government has been forced to reveal that of the 6310 asylum seekers that arrived in Australia in the past two years only 75 have been rejected and returned to their country of origin.

With mainland detention centres now reaching bursting point, the Department of Immigration has effectively admitted it is struggling to deal with what the Opposition claimed was a growing humanitarian problem on Australian soil. Yesterday, there were 4527 asylum seekers still packed into overcrowded centres across the country, 1000 beyond existing capacity.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirmed existing detention camps were under pressure but claimed the overcrowding was in part because of the increased number of rejections for asylum and the difficulty of repatriating people.

The Immigration Department is also failing to meet its 90-day target to process applications with numbers of asylum seekers in detention for three months or more rising from 30 per cent in April to more than 55 per cent now. Another 15 per cent had been in detention for more than six months and some detained for longer than 12 months, with a freeze on processing Afghan refugees still in place.

The new figures - released to parliament as answers to questions to a Senate hearing first raised by the Coalition in May - reveal that of the 6310 arrivals since October 2008, 2050 had been granted protection visas and only 75 had been removed from Australia.

The figures also explode the myth more people arrive illegally by air than by boat. Between 2009 and June 11 this year, according to the department 5646 onshore protection visa applications were lodged by people who came by air, with only 541 applicants regarded as illegal entries.

Opposition spokesman on immigration and population Scott Morrison said the Government was now dealing with a potential humanitarian crisis of its own making. "The Coalition never built Christmas Island to cope with Labor's policy failures," said Mr Morrison. "Under their compassionate humanitarian policy there are now 5000 people in detention . . . 2000 of them are in the desert."

It's understood the Government had planned to triple the size of Curtin detention centre in remote Western Australia as early as July, denied in the election campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday also could not guarantee a new East Timor processing facility in three years.

Mr Bowen, who has been in the job only two days said on Tuesday: "I do acknowledge that there are real and significant pressures on our detention centres. "They arise because of not only more elevated arrivals, but also an increased rejection rate." He said it was more time consuming to repatriate rejected persons while acceptances were much quicker.


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