Friday, November 4, 2011

Perry suggests US visa program to let illegal immigrants come and go freely -- but opposes amnesty

Sounds a good compromise

Texas Gov. Rick Perry proposed the federal government should extend work visas allowing illegal immigrants to move freely between the U.S. and their home countries — but stressed that he opposes amnesty or a path to citizenship.

Perry said in an interview with CNN’s John King on Thursday that expectations that U.S. authorities are going to arrest and deport up to 15 million illegal immigrants isn’t realistic. He added, however, that other Republicans, including fellow Texan George W. Bush, went too far when they previously proposed an immigration overhaul that included a path to citizenship.

The Texas governor also claimed his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, had once supported amnesty. Romney has drawn criticism for hiring a lawn care company that employed illegal immigrants at his family’s property in a Boston suburb for a decade — but has also said amnesty is not appropriate for illegal immigrants.

“You can put a program into place in which these individuals can be identified, and work visas in which they can move back and forth between their countries but not to become United States citizens,” Perry said. “And I think that’s where McCain, that’s where Romney, that’s where even Bush went wrong when they talked about the issue that, ‘we’re going to give amnesty to these individuals,’ and people just said, ‘no, we’re not.’”

Perry didn’t elaborate on what such a visa plan would look like, saying only that authorities need to determine a better way to identify illegal immigrants and make them part of mainstream society. He also said the program would only work if the federal government first does a better job securing America’s borders.

“I disagree with the concept that somehow or another we’re going to pack up 10, to 12, to 15 million people and ship them back to the country of origin. That’s not going to happen,” Perry said. “So realty has to be part of our conversation. And then you need to have a strategy to deal with it. That is what I think we will have, but first you have to secure that border.”

Perry called Washington’s efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigrants “an abject failure” but said that, as president, he could accomplish the task in just a year using the existing fence, more border patrol agents and air surveillance. Perry also repeated his opposition to a fence running the length of the border, saying it would take 10 to 15 years to build.

“There’s places where a secure fence will work, and that strategic type fencing will work,” he said. “But the idea that people can easily just stand up and say ‘let’s just build a fence’ and be done with it and wipe our hands, and it’s going to secure the border, that’s not reality.”

Perry has seen his polling numbers plummet after a string of lackluster debate performances — and angered some conservatives by defending a Texas plan that extends in-state university tuition to illegal immigrants who were brought into the country as children and attend high school in Texas.

The governor again defended the initiative on Thursday, saying better education helps ensure those participating in the program contribute to society: “We want taxpayers, not tax wasters.”


Justice Department Sues South Carolina Over State's Strict Immigration Law

The federal government filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to stop implementation of South Carolina's tough new immigration law, arguing that the legislation that requires law officers to check suspects' immigration status is unconstitutional.

Federal officials and state officials had met to discuss the issue a week ago.

The government wants a judge to stop enforcement of the legislation, which requires that officers call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally following a stop for something else, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles told The Associated Press.

"The Department of Justice has many important tasks," Nettles said. "Two of those important tasks are the defense of the constitution and ensuring equality is afforded to all."

The lawsuit filed in federal court names Gov. Nikki Haley as a defendant. A spokesman for the Republican, the daughter of immigrants from India, said the state was forced to pass its own law because there is no strong federal immigration law.

"If the feds were doing their job, we wouldn't have had to address illegal immigration reform at the state level," Rob Godfrey said. "But, until they do, we're going to keep fighting in South Carolina to be able to enforce our laws."

A spokesman for state Attorney General Alan Wilson, who will act as Haley's attorney, said he had not seen the complaint.

South Carolina's law, which takes effect Jan. 1, also mandates that all businesses check their new hires' legal status through a federal online system. Businesses that knowingly violate the law could have their operating licenses revoked.

The law says all law enforcement officers are required to call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The question must follow an arrest or traffic stop for something else. The measure bars officers from holding someone solely on that suspicion. Opponents railed against the measure as encouraging racial profiling.

The law also makes it a felony for someone to make fake photo IDs for illegal residents and creates a new law enforcement unit within the Department of Public Safety to enforce state immigration laws. It also makes it a felony for illegal immigrants to allow themselves to be transported.

Nettles said the law is unconstitutional and violates people's right to due process.

The U.S. Justice Department has been reviewing immigration-related laws passed by several states and is challenging similar laws in Arizona and Alabama. Last week, Nettles met with Wilson on the issue, but no details of that meeting were released.

Assistant attorney general Tony West said Monday the agency continues to review similar laws in Utah, Indiana and Georgia. He quoted Haley saying South Carolina's law would cause illegal immigrants to move elsewhere.

"Pushing undocumented individuals out of one state and into another is simply not a solution to our immigration challenges," West said. "It ultimately creates more problems than it solves."

Justice department officials said South Carolina's law, like Alabama's and Arizona's, diverts federal resources from high-priority targets, such as terrorism, drug smuggling and gang activity. They contend the laws will result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens, who can't immediately prove their legal status.

A deputy assistant attorney general said the agency sent a letter to Alabama schools reminding them that children can't be denied enrollment. Unlike the laws in other states, Alabama's required schools to check students' immigration status. That provision, which has been temporarily blocked, would allow the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that said a kindergarten to high school education must be provided to illegal immigrants.

The Justice Department has set up a hotline and email address for complaints regarding Alabama's law, and officials said they're coordinating with colleagues in other federal agencies -- including the labor, agriculture, education, and health agencies -- to ensure federal money's not being used to discriminate.

In a news release, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said South Carolina's law "diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve, while failing to address the underlying problem: the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level."

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has challenged the similar laws in other states, several weeks ago sued to block the South Carolina law from taking effect in January.

"It definitely puts a spotlight on the issue and heightens our arguments," Andre Segura, an attorney with the ACLU's immigrants' rights project, said Monday.


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