Legislation that would provide a road map to citizenship for an estimated 11 million Americans here illegally was endorsed Wednesday by local progressive groups.
“We think this is a major step forward,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. “It will bring these people out of the shadows where they have been living too long.”
The proposed immigration reform will benefit the local economy in areas such as construction, hospitality, agriculture, shipping and the emerging high-tech corridor. It will also mean increased tax revenue from legal workers, she said.
“The time has come and we are behind comprehensive immigration reform,” Middleton said.
The 844-page immigration bill, unveiled April 18, has bipartisan support from eight U.S. senators, including Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. It is designed to secure the border while allowing tens of thousands of new high- and low-skilled workers into the country. Employers would be required to verify their legal status.
Kenneth Riley, AFL-CIO president in South Carolina, praised the legislation.
“We strongly support this push and we applaud those who are working to make history on this. This is about real people, hard-working people,” Riley said.
If approved, the bill would require certain border security goals to be met first before the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants would be an option, The Associated Press reported.
Diana Salazar, president of the Latino Association of Charleston, said she is very pleased with the proposed immigration reform.
“They know we’re here. We’re not leaving and it’s time for change,” she said.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, offered her support.
“I remain optimistic that it is going to happen,” she said.
The advocates for immigration reform spoke at a press conference at the International Longshoremen’s Hall.
Middleton said some provisions of the bill are not to her liking, such as a requirement that an illegal with three misdemeanors be disqualified from the citizenship process.
“There are a lot of details to be worked out,” she said.
The bill sets goals of surveillance of 100 percent of the border with Mexico, and catching or turning back 90 percent of would-be crossers. People here illegally could obtain “registered provisional immigrant status” six months after enactment of the bill if certain provisions are met such as arrival in the U.S. prior to Dec. 31, 2011, no felony conviction and paying a $500 fine.
Within five years, all employers would be required to implement E-Verify, a program to electronically verify their workers’ legal status. As part of that, non-citizens will be required to show photo ID that must match with a photo in the E-Verify system.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that the legislation is a fundamental tool to help law enforcement authorities know who is here, according to news reports.
Napolitano said the bill devotes more money to securing the border and implements new systems to track people as they leave the country — something that might have helped when one of the suspected Boston bombers traveled to Russia last year, the AP reported.
Immigration attorney Michael Harrison (counterclockwise, from foreground), Kenneth Riley of the International Longshoremen’s Association, Victoria Middleton of the ACLU, Latino community advocate Diana Salazar, Dot Scott of the NAACP and Chris Inglese of the South Carolina Progressive Network came together Wednesday to promote the comprehensive immigration reform that Congress is considering.×
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