GOP leader seeks moratorium on immigration

October 17, 2001|By SAM SCOTT, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The leader of a group of conservative legislators called Tuesday for a moratorium on all immigration — an extreme example of the suggestions for rehauling immigration that are rounding the Capitol in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

"There's been a shift," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group of mostly Republican congressmen. "The defense of our nation begins with the defense of our borders. I don't think there's going to be an amnesty program even if you link it up to a guest worker program."

The group's moratorium is unlikely to pass — Tancredo admitted as much himself — but its suggestion is emblematic of the shift on immigration issues. Five weeks ago, a moratorium would have been considered unthinkable. The weekend before the terrorist attacks President Bush discussed expanding a guest worker program with Mexican President Vincente Fox.

The attacks have pushed the immigration debate in Congress from amnesty for immigrant workers to various methods of increasing security, including tightened borders, reduced student visas and tracking immigrants as they enter and exit the country.


The change in immigration mindsets has been felt all across Washington.

"It's been a remarkable sea change," said John Keeley, research associate for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group advocating strict immigration laws. "It's a 180 turn in policy the likes I haven't seen in my years in policy."

Saying his group has been besieged with media calls since the attacks, Keeley said even if the war in Afghanistan calmed, he could not see Congress returning to the guest worker or amnesty issues next year, saying legislators would avoid sensitive issues during an election year.

Douglas Rivlin, spokesman for the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant policy group, said he could not see guest worker programs returning to Congress' attention this year but the issue will ultimately return because the underlying issue remained.

"Our economy needs people," he said.

Tightening borders could have an impact on the Imperial Valley's agriculture.

"There's no telling what people might do in this atmosphere. That may have an effect on the industry's ability to get a legal labor force," said Bryan Little, senior director for government relations at the American Farm Bureau, an agriculture interest group.

Tancredo said he is unmoved by any industry's need for labor.

"If it comes to deciding if we want cheaper lettuce or a safer society," he said, "I know what I'm going to pick."

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