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Senate immigration panel seeks comprehensive federal reform

The Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON – The new chairman of the Senate immigration subcommittee vowed Thursday to take on comprehensive immigration reform in this session of Congress.

“I pledge that I will work and work and work and work to strike the right balance and achieve the critical reforms to our immigration system that the American people are asking us to do,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who took over the Judiciary Committee’s panel on immigration and border security in February.

Republicans and Democrats on the subcommittee said they were happy that President Barack Obama this week called the issue a high priority for his administration and urged Congress to begin the process of passing a sweeping immigration bill.

Recent polls have shown that nearly 60 percent of Americans want Congress to address the difficult issue.

“This will be very, very hard to do, make no mistake,” Schumer said. “But we have to try, for the sake of our country.”

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Congress needs to take action soon on a bill to beef up border security, offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants and improve the ability of employers to verify workers’ immigration status. He said it was significant that he, Schumer, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., were in agreement on that course of action.

Expert witnesses told the panel that the reform must happen or the nation’s economy and safety will suffer.

“America will be strengthened by a rational and sensible approach toward this issue,” said Jeff Moseley, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, a business group that sees immigrants as crucial to meeting the labor demands of American employers.

Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, recommended the creation of a standing commission to advise Congress and the president about when and how to adjust immigration levels to meet market demand and strengthen the U.S. economy.

With illegal immigration down because of the recession, Congress has “an historic opportunity to craft reform legislation,” Meissner said.

But Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, warned that federal immigration officials are not ready to handle a flood of new visa and citizenship applications if Congress offers millions of illegal immigrants a chance to remain in the U.S. legally.

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