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Madison group pushes for immigration reform

Published On: Feb 16 2013 10:54:59 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 17 2013 09:05:43 AM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

A handful of Immigrant Workers' Union members were busy Saturday afternoon, mapping out a plan for the next several months of political action.

"This is the first year that it feels like something good is going to happen," union president Alex Gillis said.

Gillis is no stranger to fighting for immigration reform. He's been leading springtime protests for years. This year, Gillis planned community meetings, a bus trip to D.C., and numerous rallies.

"What we're asking only makes common sense," Gillis said. "Employers, the economy, and the communities are already built on a working 11 million undocumented workers."

President Barack Obama addressed the immigration issue in his State of the Union address Tuesday. In that speech, the president mentioned securing the border, clearing a path of citizenship, fixing the legal issues with the immigration system, and cracking down on employers hiring undocumented workers.

"Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away, and America will be better for it," Obama said.

UW political science professor Maggie Peters teaches classes on immigration, and said Obama’s goals resemble those of a bipartisan Senate committee. She said legislation should be able to get through the Senate, but it will be more difficult to pass something similar in the House of Representatives.

"I think it's going to be really hard to get this compromise through the House," Peters said, "so it's going to be mobilizing enough voters and their representatives to vote for this in the House of Representatives."

Peters said votes is what put immigration in the forefront in the first place. 

"Most of these ideas are not new. I think what's new is the latest election and how many Hispanics voted and how much they voted for Obama," Peters said, "and because for the most part they went for Obama, this has created a political incentive on both parties to try and deal with immigration because it's a hot issue for Hispanics."

Peters said there is a faction of Republicans that doesn’t want any sort of path to legalization, preferring methods like deportation. Getting over those differences, she said, will be Obama’s greatest challenge in getting some level of reform approved.

Peters also said consensus may not be reached if focus shifts to other legislative issues, like gun control or the national debt.

While the president hasn’t mentioned any specific plans for action, Peters said Obama has mentioned making citizenship verification systems mandatory.

Employers now use the "e-verify" program to make sure social security numbers are correct. Gillis said his group does not agree with that change.

"What we're trying to do is level the field and make sure human rights are respected and our families are protected like anybody else would like to," Gillis said.

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