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Democracy at Work

By Katherine Fennelly, Professor of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute

An amazing thing happened this week. Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the US, and the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared to listen. Only a few weeks earlier political pundits had predicted that moderate proposals for immigration reform were ‘dead in the water’ in the Senate, and likely to be supplanted by punitive ‘enforcement only’ bills, such as those passed by the House of Representatives in December of last year (see footnote 1).

Instead, the Catholic Church joined with unions, non-profit organizations, students and Latino organizations to mobilize protestors who were angered by proposals to make unauthorized presence in the US a felony, and to expand definitions of smuggling to include anyone who assists an undocumented individual. Police estimated that 500,000 individuals turned out in Los Angeles, and 200-300,000 in Chicago.

The day after the Los Angeles march four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee joined Democrats in approving a bill that removed the most punitive provisions and maintained many of the components of the bipartisan McCain-Kennedy bill that had the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a six-year guest worker visa if they meet several criteria: employment, payment of a $1,000 fine and back taxes, passing a criminal background screen and demonstration of English proficiency.

Despite the euphoria of the protesters, their victory may be short-lived. The Senate is sharply divided over immigration reform, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has introduced an enforcement-only bill that should lead to contentious debate between and among Republicans and Democrats in the weeks ahead.

1] The "Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), would also build a high-tech fence along sections of the southern border, facilitate the enforcement of federal immigration law by local officials, and require detention of all non-Mexican unauthorized immigrants apprehended at or between official ports of entry.


Contributer: Katherine Fennelly
E-mail: kfennelly@hhh.umn.edu

Katherine Fennelly is Professor of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota. During the fall of 2003 she was the Willy Brandt Visiting Professor of International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö University in Sweden. Her research, teaching and outreach interests include immigration and public policy, leadership in the public sector, the human rights of immigrants and refugees in the United States, and the preparedness of communities and public institutions to adapt to demographic changes. Recent projects and publications focus on the integration of immigrants in rural, Midwestern communities in the United States.