Sunday, December 11, 2011

Initiative would give California illegal immigrants safe harbor

Nearly a million undocumented immigrants could live and work openly in California with little or no fear of deportation under an initiative unveiled Friday by a state legislator and others.

Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, is helping to spearhead the measure, called the California Opportunity and Prosperity Act.

The proposal was filed Friday with the state attorney general's office, marking a first step toward a drive to collect the 504,760 voter signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Fuentes called the measure a "moderate, common-sense approach" necessitated by the federal government's inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform. "I hope this shows Washington, D.C., that if they fail to act, California will take the lead on this critical issue," Fuentes said in a written statement.

Supporters say the initiative could generate up to $325 million in new tax revenue from undocumented workers.

Regardless of whether Californians would support such a measure, implementation would depend upon the federal government agreeing not to prosecute participants at the state's request.

Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, blasted the proposal as an attempt to sidestep immigration law. He predicted that it wouldn't have a "snowball's chance in hell" of winning voter approval.

"There's a proper process for coming to this country," Donnelly said of undocumented immigrants. "Why don't you respect that?"

The proposed initiative would apply to illegal immigrants who have lived in California for four years, have no felony convictions, are not suspected terrorists, pay a fee to administer the program, and can speak English or are learning it.

Since federal law makes it illegal to hire an undocumented immigrant, the program calls for the state to seek exceptions from the federal government that would provide a "safe harbor" for participants and people who hire them.

As job opportunities improve for the undocumented immigrants, so will California's tax coffers, proponents say. Supporters touted the measure as continuing California's tradition of enacting trailblazing policy in areas ranging from environmental protection to medicinal marijuana.

John Cruz, a proponent of the measure and former appointments secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said it makes sense to allow undocumented, longtime California residents to "fully contribute to society by becoming taxpayers as well."

Donnelly countered that the federal government is not likely to carve out exceptions for a select group of illegal immigrants.

"It essentially asks the federal government not to enforce the law," Donnelly said.

The campaign has enlisted Mike Madrid, former California Republican Party official, to help lead the effort. Madrid said a campaign committee would be formed next week to begin soliciting donations.


Christmas rush of illegal immigrant boats expected in Australia

EIGHT boatloads of asylum seekers have sailed into Australian waters in as many days, as Immigration Department Secretary Andrew Metcalfe warned of a possible influx unless border protection laws were changed.

Mr Metcalfe said up to 3600 asylum seekers could arrive within six months and the flow of boats would not be stopped in the foreseeable future.

"There's no indication that I see that would show that the current high rate of arrivals is going to significantly decrease or increase," Mr Metcalfe said. "We seem to be back at a fairly steady state again."

The warning came days after the largest boatload of asylum seekers since Julia Gillard took over as Prime Minister arrived, with almost 170 people crammed on board.

Yesterday also marked the eighth arrival in eight days, when the Navy intercepted a boat with 49 asylum seekers.

Mr Metcalfe was quizzed by shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison and admitted it was "possible" 3600 asylum seekers could arrive within six months.

He previously said the failure of the Government's Malaysia solution could see 600 asylum seekers a month, but the rejection of the scheme to process asylum seekers in Malaysia had "effectively unwound" legislation from the Howard era.

"In the absence of any effective legislation we could expect to see numbers return to where they were last year and that's been proven to be correct," he said.

There are now more than 5500 people in either detention centres or in community detention. There are 1300 asylum seekers on Christmas Island and a quarter of detainees are housed in the community.

Assistant Secretary Greg Kelly said the department had a two-week target to get detainees off Christmas Island and into mainland centres.

"Obviously it depends on the weather conditions, the availability of charter flights and on ensuring detainees are safe to travel," he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australia's border protection system was in crisis. "The Prime Minister has effectively given up," he said. "She talks about offshore processing but she practises onshore release. The Government's policy is Bob Brown's policy: let people come, put out the welcome mat to the people-smugglers."


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