Rep. Miller Pushing Back Against Immigration Reform

Rep. Miller pushing back against immigration reform

By Rebecca Kimitch
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune (CA), January 28, 2010

With immigration reform making the president's long State of the Union to-do list, Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea had a strong warning for Democrats on Thursday: any path to citizenship in that reform 'will be the last nail in their coffin.'

Citing high unemployment across the country, Miller says now is the exact wrong time to push policy that he says will lead to greater competition for jobs.

'There are eight million illegal immigrants employed in this country, and we have seen jobs erode because of that,' Miller said. 'If you think about legalizing them, and the many more who come behind them, well you have seen what happened with health care and the absolute anger there… (Democrats) are going to see a much worse backlash with this.'

Miller, who represents Whittier, Rowland Heights, Diamond Bar and parts of San Bernardino and Orange counties, is leading a push to frame the immigration debate in unemployment. And as part of this effort, he and Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, who is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, are forming a new congressional caucus – the Reclaim American Jobs Caucus.

In addition, Miller has proposed his own legislation – the Loophole Elimination and Verification Enforcement Act (LEAVE Act), which aims to increase border security and reduce access to jobs and government benefits.

But Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), called the notion that immigrants take jobs away from native born people or legal immigrants a 'myth' and 'misconception.' And he had his own warning:

'Congress members who continue to perpetuate this myth do so at their own peril, because the elections in 2008 show that that those legislators who demonstrated anti-immigrant feelings or ran on anti-immigrant platforms did not do well,' Cabrera said.

Miller and Smith highlighted a study released this week that found that teenagers are facing a 26-percent unemployment rate – the highest since statistics began to be kept in 1948.

The study, commissioned by the Chicago Urban League and the Alternative Schools Network, found that black youths and young people from low-income families are having the hardest time finding jobs, including part-time jobs that are traditionally used as a launching pad to employment.

'It's not that the people coming here are bad people, but we just can't be the welfare capital of the world. Most of them are non-educated, low-income jobs that they are taking from the vulnerable and disadvantaged… and in jobs that used to be decent, well-paying jobs, they are driving down wages,' Miller said.

Cabrera said undocumented immigrants are not taking jobs from teens. They typically work in the agriculture and service sectors and have done so for years, before the country faced such high unemployment rates, he said.

'They are not taking the McDonalds jobs. They are not taking the mom and pop store jobs. They are not taking the Magic Mountain jobs those jobs you would need documentation, need to speak English well,' he said. 'It is very convenient for legislators to pit immigrant workers and undocumented workers against native-born youth who happen to be Latino and African American.'

Cabrera said immigrants are indispensable to the economies of the state and country, cited a USC study that found immigrants in Los Angeles County account for nearly 36 percent of total consumer purchasing power.

Last month, a group of Democrats introduced an immigration reform bill that would legalize undocumented immigrants by requiring them to register with the federal government, pay a $500 fine, learn English, pass background checks and meet other requirements. They then are eligible for a six-year visa and then a green card.