King's bill faces hard sell
BY AARON CAHALL
The immigration debate may not be over just yet -- and legislation introduced by Rep. Peter King could be at the center of a Republican bid to go on the offensive.
King (R-Seaford) said he would introduce his pending immigration bill in the House this week, legislation that focuses on border security and cracks down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
The bill was set to be introduced two weeks ago, the same day that a comprehensive immigration reform bill failed in the Senate. When that controversial measure, and its bipartisan support, fell apart, King held off on introducing legislation that was more to his liking.
After a week of deliberations, King's bill is back on the radar but getting it to the Democrat-controlled House floor, let alone passed, will be a tough sell.
"It's going to be difficult to get it to the floor -- very difficult, impossible, unless the Democrats want it to get to the floor," King said last week. "We may offer parts of the bill as amendments, do it piecemeal, and see if there's a public effort to get parts of it taken up separately."
House leadership continues to meet with members on the immigration issue to determine how or whether the subject will come up in that chamber, according to a spokesman with Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. Her office had not seen language in the King bill, the spokesman said, and declined comment on whether it would be taken up.
The Senate immigration bill would have allowed undocumented immigrants to seek a special visa, tightened border security and created a system to ensure employers hire only legal workers. The bill failed a crucial vote June 28 that would have brought the measure to a final vote.
King, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was never a fan of the Senate's immigration bill. He was among the Republicans who said it granted "amnesty" to illegal immigrants and he eventually worked up the conservative response to the Senate's measure.
The bill, co-sponsored by King and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), will be "98 percent the same" as legislation they announced June 19. The bill allows for a defined number of temporary agricultural workers each year based on market conditions and enforces previously enacted sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. It also would make English the official U.S. language.
Regardless of the Senate bill's fate, King said he had always planned to introduce the bill as a statement of the GOP position on the issue, possibly for renewal in the fall. But on the day before the House's Fourth of July recess, King said talk turned to advancing the bill.
"A consensus did seem to be developing," King said. "A majority seemed to be supporting enforcement. There was talk that final day, that maybe we should push this."
Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is among House GOP members backing King's bill, his office said, and expects widespread support from party members for the legislation.
Long Island immigration advocates said King's bill has many of the same problems as past GOP attempts to tackle the immigration issue. The bill focuses too much on border security, with not enough recognition of the need for immigrant labor, and no plans to deal with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States, according to Patrick Young, program director of the Central American Refugee Center in Hempstead.
The bill also bars workers from bringing family with them and provides no path to permanent status or citizenship, which Young opposes.
Other groups said they supported the idea of tighter border security behind King's legislation.
"Before we do anything, anything in this country, we have to secure those borders," said Ron Lewandowski, Eastern Suffolk director of the national Minutemen group, "We have to control the flood from the Mexican border, particularly."
'All-out' push needed
King said he would introduce the bill, but it would take an "all-out" push by House GOP leadership to advance it.
While he said party leadership was "going in that direction," the bill would require some Democratic support. But legalization -- King's "amnesty" -- was a major part of the Senate's bill, and lack of it in the GOP House alternative may be a stumbling block.
"Democrats are under pressure to not have anything come up that doesn't have a legalization component," King said, adding that working pieces of the bill into other legislation is "probably the best way to get it done. We can make the grand statement of a comprehensive bill, but find a way to get parts of it in other places."
Among those calling for legalization is Nadia Marin-Molina, executive director of the Workplace Project, a Hempstead-based membership organization for immigrant workers and their families.
"They tried to put as many of those enforcement provisions in the bill that didn't make it through the Senate," she said. "It doesn't seem like anything will happen in terms of anti- or pro-immigrant legislation."