'La Raza' has virtual veto over bill
Controversial group 'practically in the room' during negotiations
Members of the "La Raza" movement envision reclaiming the American SouthwestControversial Latino groups, including the National Council of La Raza, were granted virtual veto power over the immigration bill hammered out yesterday by Senate Republicans, Democrats and the White House, the Washington Post reported.
A number of prominent Republicans have rejected the bill – which still has not been issued in its final form – as "amnesty" for millions of people who came to the U.S. illegally.
The National Council of La Raza, or "The Race," was condemned last year by Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., as a radical "pro-illegal immigration lobbying organization that supports racist groups calling for the secession of the western United States as a Hispanic-only homeland."
Norwood, writing in Human Events, called on La Raza to renounce its support of the campus group MEChA – Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan – which sees "The Race" as part of a transnational ethnic group that one day will reclaim Aztlan, the mythical birthplace of the Aztecs. In Chicano folklore, Aztlan includes California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Colorado and Texas.
As WND reported, Norwood said last year the National Council of La Raza campaigned hard against a plan to provide funding, training and resources for state and local law enforcement agencies who help federal officers in capturing and detaining criminals who are illegal aliens.
"For those who haven't figured it out yet, the entire illegal immigration crisis we suffer is due 100 percent from failure to enforce existing law," Norwood said. "The other side (including La Raza) knows this very well, and knows that the continued suppression of U.S. law enforcement efforts is essential to permanently destroying our borders."
Regarding the new bill, Eric Gutierrez, lead lobbyist for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, told the Post there's "a real sense that the Latino community is key to the solution in this debate, so now they are reaching out to us more than ever."
"Neither party wants to make a misstep politically," he said.
The Post said the Latino groups "were practically in the room" as Democratic and Republican senators negotiated the bill, which would grant quick legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, create a temporary worker program and increase border security.
Before criticism came rolling in, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., insisted the bill is not "amnesty," but lawmakers such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., immediately applied that label.
King called it "a pardon and reward for lawbreakers," and DeMint declared, "I don't care how you try to spin it, this is amnesty."
Last year, Latino groups demonstrated their power by filling streets in cities across the nation when the House passed a bill that would have made illegal immigration a felony.
The Post noted La Raza, MALDEF, the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, and the National Immigration Forum are part of a broad network of immigrant rights groups that have been speaking daily with top aides in the offices of Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.
The bill promoted by Kennedy would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a "Z visa" that puts them on a track for permanent residency within eight to 13 years. Fees and a fine of $5,000 are required and heads of household first must return to their home countries.
The illegals would be able to obtain a probationary card right away to live and work in the U.S., but the path to citizenship cannot begin until completion of border improvements and the high-tech ID system.
The temporary worker program also would be delayed until the new security measures are in place. The workers would be required to return home after two years and would not be on a track for permanent status. The guest worker visas could be renewed twice, but the worker would be required to leave for one year between each renewal.
Democrats wanted guest workers to be allowed to stay indefinitely.
Two tough issues remain for which Kennedy's Latino "stakeholders" likely will have sway. Republicans and Democrats still are divided on whether 400,000 foreigners entering the country as temporary workers would have to leave the country after three years or be granted a chance to remain permanently, the Post reported. Also, the parties must resolve how extended family ties should be weighed in granting visas.
William Ramos, a spokesman for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, told the Post his constituency would oppose elimination of "some aspects of family reunification" and also a policy that would force immigrants to return to their home countries for an extended period and to petition for reentry.
The White House held a meeting just over two weeks ago with Latino groups, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez have had contact.
"At least they are paying attention to us," MALDEF President John Trasviña told the Post.