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Del. voters vocal about immigration reform
Marion Guernsey is tired of going into restaurants and not understanding workers who speak only Spanish.
She's fed up with all the Pennsylvania-tagged cars cruising the streets, or 10 people crowding into one house.
She's concerned "illegals" are living on welfare, and taking jobs from Americans.
She is also a registered Democrat.
When it comes to immigration, there is no official party line, illustrating the complications of forging legislation lenient enough to please pro-immigrant groups, while still tough enough to appease anti-illegal immigration hard-liners.
"Neither party really agrees within itself what the policy should be," said Mike Wagner, University of Delaware assistant professor of political science. "What citizens have the hardest time understanding is that an issue like this involves lengthy and slow compromise."
Polls by news organizations show most Americans favor granting some sort of legalization to the 12 million undocumented immigrants already here. But the public also wants tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
Legislative offices across the country have been inundated with phone calls, letters and e-mails from constituents weighing in on every possible angle of the tangled immigration debate.
"Citizens might be more likely to contact their representative on this issue because the divisions here are not purely partisan," Wagner said.
Congress is trying to find the sweet spot among accommodating those here illegally, securing the border and regulating future immigration flows -- an undertaking that could shore up the fragile bipartisan panel-proposed Senate bill debated last week, or lead to its unraveling.
But without an overwhelming number of comments on one side or the other, constituents' opinions aren't likely to sway a Congress member's stance, said Jason Mycoff, a UD assistant professor of political science who specializes in Congress.
"They definitely take constituency comments seriously," Mycoff said. But with immigration comments regularly coming in from both sides, it "frees the Congress member to make his own decision."
'Their time to be heard'
In the last two weeks, immigration has surpassed the Iraq war as the No. 1 topic of calls to the offices of Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. More than 25 percent of all correspondence, or more than 260 letters and e-mails, sent to Carper have dealt with immigration.
"It's the hot topic right now, because people know immigration is hitting the floor of the Senate, and this is their time to be heard," Carper spokeswoman Emily Cunningham said.
The offices of Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., received more than 200 messages, through phone, fax, e-mail or letter, calling for immigration reform in a week.
Opinions run the gamut, said spokeswoman Kaitlin Hoffman.
"Constituents have very differing views," she said. "We see all sides of the debate."
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., is seeing the same increase in immigration-related correspondence, although spokeswoman Margaret Aitken would not provide details, other than to say immigration has inspired "strong feelings" on both sides of the debate.
Molly Jurusik, executive director of the Delaware Democratic Party, said people are coming down on all sides of the complicated and controversial subject.
"It's really complex," she said. "It's not something easily captured in one talking point."
Even President Bush acknowledged the topic is an "explosive" one that can "bring out the worst" in people.
A country of immigrants
Dave Skocik, 59, of Dover, said that while some people believe the pending legislation is too onerous on people living here illegally, the majority of comments he's heard are from residents concerned about the impact of illegal immigration on taxpayers.
"What's the cost of those who live here illegally and drive without auto insurance, or who rely on taxpayers to cover medical care, schools and welfare services for their families?" he said.
Ana Viscarra, a bilingual teacher in the Red Clay school district, falls on the other side of the debate.
"I am a witness to a myriad of success stories of immigrants, and it saddens me that none of them are made public," she said. "My family and close friends are successful and well-educated immigrants. They are pediatricians, family therapists, lawyers, social workers, emergency-room doctors, psychologists, restaurant owners, professors."
Len Beck, of Wilmington, a retired chemist, said this is a country of immigrants.
"How do you think we all got here?" he said. "Citizenship is a very important gift. I have no problem offering it to everyone else. We have a big country with a lot of big opportunities for everyone else, too."
Missing the boat?
Last week, Bush said most Americans were "rightly skeptical about immigration reform."
Delawareans are no exception.
"Our legislators are surrendering to pressure groups demanding citizenship for people who have repeatedly violated our laws," Skocik said.
Beck said he believes legislators have missed the boat.
This country doesn't have a problem with immigration, he said, so Congress should be focused on criminals breaking laws, and the lack of prison space.
Mycoff said the Delaware delegation's voting history is a good indicator of how they'll vote this time.
Last year, Carper and Biden supported the Senate's immigration reform bill that would have beefed up border security and provided a means for legalizing undocumented immigrants. That bill passed the Senate 62-36 but went nowhere.
Castle voted to support a House bill that would have criminalized undocumented immigrants and those who aided them. That bill stalled after passing the House, 239-182.
The Senate is expected to debate a bill next week that would increase border security and workplace enforcement of laws against undocumented immigrants, who would have to pay $5,000 in fines, pass background checks and wait at least eight years to become legal permanent residents.
Kevin Appleby, director of Migration and Refugee Policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bill is a good starting point.
"The stakes are very high here for both Democrats and Republicans," he said. "Everyone wants to have a deal, and if they fail, it's a failure of leadership all around. The American public wants a solution."
Contact Summer Harlow at 324-2794 or email@example.com.
As Congress debates what to do about an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., this News Journal series examines the factors shaping the debate, the legislation and the effect on Delaware. This is the fifth installment.