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Businesses vs. conservatives

Peter Prengaman
AP Photo/Ric FrancisFrancisco Palacios cuts celery on a farm near Fillmore, Calif. The farm has 800 acres of celery ready for winter harvest, but has only about half of the 70 farm workers needed to work the fields.
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OXNARD, Calif. (AP) – With only 28 of the 70 workers he needs, foreman Francisco Barragan is worried that Deardorff-Jackson farm won’t be able to harvest 800 acres of celery before it rots.”A few years ago we could get people consistently,” said Barragan, 50, a Mexico native who has overseen Hispanic farm crews in California for 15 years. “Now we might lose some crops because we don’t have people.”Several things are changing the market for immigrant labor. Some workers opt for higher paying construction jobs, while both the government and civilian patrol groups such as the Minutemen have redoubled efforts to secure the still-porous southern border.While farmers and allied business groups lobby for a guest worker program to regulate the millions of undocumented Hispanic workers already here or wanting to come, hard-line restrictionists push for law enforcement solutions to illegal immigration. That dynamic is dividing Republicans.

The result, immigration policy analysts agree: Don’t bet that Congress will pass comprehensive reform proposals, some of which have languished for several years after President Bush jump-started the issue nearly two years ago.Immigration reformMany Republicans rejected it as unrealistic and criticized the president for not focusing more on border security. Bush alienated many conservatives by calling the Arizona-based Minutemen “vigilantes” when they began patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border more than a year ago, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Study, which favors less immigration and stricter enforcement.Most of the viable reform proposals are Republican-led.• GOP Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona propose letting immigrant workers enter the country for two years, followed by a one-year break. Workers could repeat that pattern two more times, but then have to return home.

• Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, back legislation that would let illegal aliens work in the U.S. for up to six years. After that, they would have to be on track to obtaining legal residency or leave.• Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel has proposed giving undocumented workers legal status if they pass criminal background checks, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, have paid taxes, can demonstrate a knowledge of English and pay a $2,000 fine.But Hagel believes border security must be strengthened before a guest worker program can succeed. Conservatives take that a step further, saying talk of reform is meaningless until immigration officials are more aggressive.”Guest worker programs are worthless,” said Minutemen President Chris Simcox. “We can’t even talk about that until there is real government enforcement on the border.”Immigration officials say they are focused on terrorist threats, that it would be impossible to send home the entire illegal population – estimates suggest there are more than 10 million – in one swoop.”We understand the public is sometimes frustrated, but like any law enforcement we have priorities” that also include counterterrorism, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


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