Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/13/national/13IMMI.html?ex=1067083478&ei=1&en=141b07ccc55817d6

Congress Looks to Grant Legal Status to Immigrants
New York Times
October 13, 2003

Eighteen-year-old Yuliana Huicochea moved to the United States at age 4, but now faces deportation because immigration officials stopped her on a school trip to a science fair.

Ms. Huicochea's troubles began last year when she and other members of her high school science team traveled from  Phoenix to Buffalo to enter their 15-foot solar-powered boat in the fair and decided to take a side trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Immigration officials stopped Ms. Huicochea and three teammates and told them they faced deportation because they were illegal immigrants.
"I'm scared," said Ms. Huicochea (WEE-coe-CHAY-uh), now a sophomore at Phoenix College, who declined to say what country she immigrated from. "I don't know any other place. My whole family is here. This is where my education is, my dreams, my goals. I don't know what I would do anywhere else."

Hispanic groups and immigrant advocates have embraced her cause, insisting that it is wrong to expel teenagers who immigrated as toddlers. And now, with many members of Congress thinking about next year's elections and paying increasing attention to the concerns of Hispanics, the issue is gaining bipartisan interest on Capitol Hill.

Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would grant legal status to Ms. Huicochea and tens of thousands of other high school students or graduates who are illegal immigrants. His bill - the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (or Dream) Act, has 36 sponsors, one-third of them Republican. His aides say they expect the Judiciary Committee to approve the bill this week.

The bill is part of a wave of immigration legislation that has gathered bipartisan momentum in recent weeks. One bill would grant accelerated citizenship to immigrants who serve in the armed forces. Another would grant legal status to  500,000 farm workers if they commit themselves to doing agricultural work for several more years. That bill's main sponsors in the Senate are Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. They say it has the support of the Senate leadership, conservatives, liberals, agricultural employers, the nation's largest farm workers' union, the Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

"On the farm workers' bill," said Cecilia Munoz, a vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, "you're talking about an alliance of strange bedfellows who have agreed on a major policy that's in the interests of the industry and the workers."

Sharon Hughes, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said, "For the first time, we have a large constituency for the reforms."

Several lawmakers say their strategy is to use the farm workers' bill as a wedge to advance other legislation that would grant legal status to other groups of illegal immigrants, like the hundreds of thousands working in restaurants and hotels.

"We think we have an excellent chance of getting the agricultural workers' bill passed," Senator Kennedy said. "I'm drawing up follow-up legislation for other industries. There's been a dramatic shift in the atmosphere on all this."

Republican backers in the House and Senate say the White House has signaled that President Bush will sign the farm workers' bill if it reaches his desk.

Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said, "We are reviewing this legislation and look forward to working with Congress."

Two years ago a push to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants was gaining momentum as President Vicente Fox of Mexico pressed President Bush to give a fairer deal to immigrant laborers. But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, derailed those efforts, because the Bush administration began concentrating on securing borders rather than helping immigrants.

"We are farther away from the horrors of Sept. 11, and we've had a chance to digest it," said John F. Gay, co-chairman of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, a business group that supports granting legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. "People inside and outside of Congress are beginning to understand that immigration reform makes you more secure."

Under the Craig-Kennedy bill, immigrants who want legal status must show that they did farm work for 100 days over the past 18 months. They will then receive temporary resident status, but if they fail to do 360 days of farm work over the next six years, they will revert to illegal status. The bill would also reduce many bureaucratic barriers that make it hard for farmers to bring in seasonal guest workers from abroad.

"This is not an amnesty program," said Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who is co-sponsoring the House bill with Christopher P. Cannon, a Utah Republican. "This is an earned legalization program."

Opponents of helping illegal immigrants have vowed to fight the new bills. "It's never time to reward people for breaking the law," said Representative Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican who is one of Congress's most outspoken foes of easing immigration rules. "That's the worst kind of public policy."

Mr. Hatch's legislation would grant legal status to teenagers like Ms. Huicochea who have been in the United States at least five years, have graduated from high school and have no criminal record. The bill would also lift a restriction that discourages state universities from charging the lower in-state tuition rate to illegal immigrants.

"We've gone to high school at taxpayers' expense, and now we can't give back to the community because we face deportation," said Ms. Huicochea, who hopes to become a lawyer. "The Dream Act is not only for our benefit, but for everybody. We would be able to start giving back to the community."