Congress Looks to Grant Legal Status to Immigrants
New York Times
October 13, 2003
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Eighteen-year-old Yuliana Huicochea moved to the United States at age 4, but
now faces deportation because immigration officials stopped her on a school trip
to a science fair.
Ms. Huicochea's troubles began last year when she and other members of her high
school science team traveled from Phoenix to Buffalo to enter their
15-foot solar-powered boat in the fair and decided to take a side trip to the
Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Immigration officials stopped Ms. Huicochea and
three teammates and told them they faced deportation because they were illegal
"I'm scared," said Ms. Huicochea (WEE-coe-CHAY-uh), now a sophomore at Phoenix
College, who declined to say what country she immigrated from. "I don't know any
other place. My whole family is here. This is where my education is, my dreams,
my goals. I don't know what I would do anywhere else."
Hispanic groups and immigrant advocates have embraced her cause, insisting that
it is wrong to expel teenagers who immigrated as toddlers. And now, with many
members of Congress thinking about next year's elections and paying increasing
attention to the concerns of Hispanics, the issue is gaining bipartisan interest
on Capitol Hill.
Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would grant legal status to Ms. Huicochea
and tens of thousands of other high school students or graduates who are illegal
immigrants. His bill - the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors
(or Dream) Act, has 36 sponsors, one-third of them Republican. His aides say
they expect the Judiciary Committee to approve the bill this week.
The bill is part of a wave of immigration legislation that has gathered
bipartisan momentum in recent weeks. One bill would grant accelerated
citizenship to immigrants who serve in the armed forces. Another would grant
legal status to 500,000 farm workers if they commit themselves to doing
agricultural work for several more years. That bill's main sponsors in the
Senate are Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of
Massachusetts. They say it has the support of the Senate leadership,
conservatives, liberals, agricultural employers, the nation's largest farm
workers' union, the Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.
"On the farm workers' bill," said Cecilia Munoz, a vice president of the
National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, "you're talking about an
alliance of strange bedfellows who have agreed on a major policy that's in the
interests of the industry and the workers."
Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural
Employers, said, "For the first time, we have a large constituency for the
Several lawmakers say their strategy is to use the farm workers' bill as a wedge
to advance other legislation that would grant legal status to other groups of
illegal immigrants, like the hundreds of thousands working in restaurants and
"We think we have an excellent chance of getting the agricultural workers' bill
passed," Senator Kennedy said. "I'm drawing up follow-up legislation for other
industries. There's been a dramatic shift in the atmosphere on all this."
Republican backers in the House and Senate say the White House has signaled that
President Bush will sign the farm workers' bill if it reaches his desk.
Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said, "We are reviewing this
legislation and look forward to working with Congress."
Two years ago a push to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants was
gaining momentum as President Vicente Fox of Mexico pressed President Bush to
give a fairer deal to immigrant laborers. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,
2001, derailed those efforts, because the Bush administration began
concentrating on securing borders rather than helping immigrants.
"We are farther away from the horrors of Sept. 11, and we've had a chance to
digest it," said John F. Gay, co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration
Coalition, a business group that supports granting legal status to millions of
illegal immigrants. "People inside and outside of Congress are beginning to
understand that immigration reform makes you more secure."
Under the Craig-Kennedy bill, immigrants who want legal status must show that
they did farm work for 100 days over the past 18 months. They will then receive
temporary resident status, but if they fail to do 360 days of farm work over the
next six years, they will revert to illegal status. The bill would also reduce
many bureaucratic barriers that make it hard for farmers to bring in seasonal
guest workers from abroad.
"This is not an amnesty program," said Representative Howard L. Berman, a
California Democrat who is co-sponsoring the House bill with Christopher P.
Cannon, a Utah Republican. "This is an earned legalization program."
Opponents of helping illegal immigrants have vowed to fight the new bills. "It's
never time to reward people for breaking the law," said Representative Tom
Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is one of Congress's most outspoken foes of
easing immigration rules. "That's the worst kind of public policy."
Mr. Hatch's legislation would grant legal status to teenagers like Ms. Huicochea
who have been in the United States at least five years, have graduated from high
school and have no criminal record. The bill would also lift a restriction that
discourages state universities from charging the lower in-state tuition rate to
"We've gone to high school at taxpayers' expense, and now we can't give back to
the community because we face deportation," said Ms. Huicochea, who hopes to
become a lawyer. "The Dream Act is not only for our benefit, but for everybody.
We would be able to start giving back to the community."