RCC Honors History Project

Schumer seeks consensus on immigration reform

Posted by dmcneal347 on May 30, 2009

BY TOM BRUNE | tom.brune@newsday.com
10:13 PM EDT, May 20, 2009

WASHINGTON – Citing new figures showing arrests for illegal border crossings down 27 percent since October, Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday argued that the federal government is fulfilling its promise to secure the nation’s borders, so now it’s time for “immigration reform.”

Declines in the arrests indicate fewer people are trying to enter illegally, border patrol officials said Wednesday, whether because of tougher enforcement or the bad economy.

With such testimony in the second Senate hearing this year on an ambitious overhaul of immigration laws, Schumer, a New York Democrat and chairman of the Senate’s immigration subcommittee, sought to address the issue he says sank previous legislation.

“The reason the bill failed is that the American people didn’t have faith that there wouldn’t be a future wave of illegal immigrants if we passed that bill,” Schumer said.

Schumer is attempting to forge a consensus on the hot-button issue of immigration, a politically difficult task in a year with a jammed agenda. But he has backing from President Barack Obama to move forward.

Obama will host a White House meeting on immigration with key members of Congress on June 8, a White House official said.

Schumer and officials from immigration enforcement and the border patrol touted tougher measures on the border as contributing to the decline.

But even Schumer had to agree with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who Wednesday said the number of those trying to cross the border went down “because of the decline in the labor market.”

Still, arrests for illegal crossings have dropped steadily in a trend that began before the economic crash. The border patrol recorded 876,704 arrests in fiscal year 2007, down 20 percent from 2006, and 723,825 arrests in 2008, down 17 percent.

The 27 percent decline is for the seven months since fiscal year 2008 ended on Sept. 30, 2008, compared with the comparable figure a year before.

Some of the experts testifying Wednesday gave the efforts of immigration and border patrol officials a mixed review.

J.D. Hayworth, a former Arizona congressman, complained that current laws are not being adequately enforced and decried efforts to grant amnesty, or legalization of illegal immigrants already here in this country.

Sociologist Douglas Massey argued against a buildup of patrols and fences, calling it a “militarization” of the border whose main effect has been to keep undocumented workers who came here to work from returning home.

“I agree that progress has been made,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who opposed comprehensive reform bills. “The question is: Will we continue [toughening enforcement] as the number of illegal entrants go down?”

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