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Hispanic Link News Service

Latinos Have Stake in 106th Congress's Final Votes


September 17, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Hispanic Link News Service. All Rights Reserved.

The 106th U.S. Congress has reconvened for its last session before the November elections, coming back to chip away at a packed ``to do'' list, including several issues of particular interest to the Hispanic community.

Legislators are considering a $1 increase in the minimum wage, to $6.15 an hour. Both Republicans and Democrats -- including the Clinton administration -- support an increase, but the measure has been bogged down by political infighting. Republicans want to pay for the hike with a series of tax cuts, which the Democrats oppose as unnecessary.

Immigration issues also figure prominently. Latino legislators and immigrant-rights groups have been lobbying to grant permanent residence status to groups in addition to the Nicaraguans and Cubans covered under the 1997 Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA).

``It's only fair,'' says Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), a sponsor of the bill to extend NACARA. ``Many of these people from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti are here because of the same kinds of circumstances in their native countries as those who came here and are covered by the law. They should all be treated equally.''

Also under consideration is a bill to restore Section 245(I) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which had allowed immigrants to remain legally in the United States while awaiting permanent residency. Because Congress did not reauthorize Section 245(I) when it was up for renewal in 1998, immigrants now must return to their country of origin during the waiting period.

Legislators could also discuss a bill that would grant permanent residency to long-time residents wrongly denied this status due to a misinterpretation of a 1986 law by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

At that time, thousands of immigrants who were eligible to apply for legal residency under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) were erroneously turned down by the INS. Even though courts have subsequently ruled in favor of the immigrants, the INS has failed to act, and many of those immigrants have lost their work authorizations and face deportation.

Additionally, Congress may consider legislation to create a new ``guest worker'' program patterned after the old ``bracero'' program that ran from 1942 to 1964 to alleviate what the bill's supporters say is a shortage of workers, particularly in the agriculture industry.

The United Farm Workers, along with other labor and Latino groups, opposes the measure, saying it would lower wages for their unionized U.S. workers and would increase exploitation.

Congress could also consider increasing the number of H1-B visas -- the so-called ``professional visas'' -- which the Republican majority considers necessary to address what it says is a shortage of U.S. professional workers in several fields, including high-tech. While most Democrats are not opposed to H1-B visas, Latino groups say that Congress should at the same time help immigrants already in the United States.

Education is also a key issue facing legislators this session. Congress is considering reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which includes Title 1 funding. Title 1 monies -- $8 billion -- cover some 11 million needy children.

Congress is also considering a numerous bills to reauthorize funding for key components within the 11 federal agencies, including monies for the Minority Business Development Agency at the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBLEMA) at the U.S. Department of Education, and the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to name a few.

Patricia Guadalupe is Capitol Hill correspondent for Hispanic Link News Service and interim news director of Pacific Radio's Network News in Washington, D.C.

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