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Thursday, October 17, 2002 -- Twin Falls, Idaho

Craig proclaims support of immigrant issues

By Nate Johnson
Times-News writer

BURLEY -- U.S. Sen. Larry Craig Tuesday told the 60 or so people gathered at City Hall he supports new and faster procedures for the legalization of immigrants already living in the United States.

Speakers asked Craig, R-Idaho, to help youths who are not U.S. citizens but who have successfully participated in the U.S. school system. These students should be able to finish their education and should be eligible for college financial aid, they said. The speakers also told the senator people who live illegally in the United States are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The Idaho Community Action Network organized the Burley event, taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with the senator as he other Republicans were in Burley as part of a bus tour through southern Idaho. In response to pleas to provide protection and opportunities for undocumented workers, Craig briefly explained a piece of legislation he had written regarding immigrants living in America illegally. Craig said he will co-sponsor an act expanding some undocumented immigrants' access to education benefits and ability to adjust to lawful status.

Speakers made the case that people working illegally in America fuel the economy and contributed much more than they receive in social services.

"The agricultural industry in Idaho was built on the backs of immigrants here in Idaho," said Jolene Poen, a representative of ICAN from Downey.

Undocumented immigrants add $300 billion to the nation's gross domestic product and pay $80,000 more in taxes in a lifetime than they will receive in public services, said Gloria Lara, an ICAN member from Heyburn, citing a University of Los Angeles study.

Craig recognized the importance of the problem. Twelve percent of the U.S. work force is made up of immigrants, he said. That number will have to rise to 20 percent by 2010 "to keep America going," Craig said. Laws written by liberal Democrats have been made under the influence of unions and without recognition of a need for a "secondary work force," Craig said.

Immigration law provisions regarding migrant workers are inadequate, Craig said. Far more workers come into the United States each year than the number who register as migrant workers. Craig's bill would make illegal workers legal, making it easier for them to obtain documentation and allowing them to obtain driver's licenses, he said. The legislation would also allow the workers to begin the process of becoming citizens.

The legislation is not a guest worker program, but would allow for the legalization of undocumented workers in the United States, Craig said. The law would not provide amnesty for people illegally living in the United States.

"I looked into this problem a decade ago as a work problem," Craig said. When immigration officials took deported workers it left farmers struggling to find more help, he said. But as he investigated the issue Craig found many immigrant workers were also suffering inhumane treatment.

"With the new Congress I am confident we will pass sweeping reform in immigration law," Craig said.

Craig also said he would co-sponsor the "Dream Act" with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, but Craig said the bill will probably not be approved. Instead, the changes proposed in the act would probably come about as part of education bills, he said.

Rigo Victoria of Burley told his story. He came to America in 1985 from Mexico. Victoria received good grades and was a star athlete but could not continue his education because he was not eligible for student aid. His applications to the military were rejected.

"Now I think of all those nights I stayed up late doing homework and being good and polite -- for what? I am no better off," Victoria said.


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