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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

Meeting on illegal immigrants buoys hopes of FLOC leader

BY ANN McFEATTERS
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

WASHINGTON - Advocates of legalizing the status of millions of immigrants in America converged on Capitol Hill and the White House yesterday, pleading with legislators and the Bush Administration for permanent residency and labor rights.

The movement got a huge push in September when President Bush and Mexican President Vincente Fox agreed to work toward a compromise on letting immigrants work in the United States, cementing their understanding with a visit to Toledo. But after Sept. 11, when 19 immigrants from the Middle East hijacked airplanes and killed more than 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, the steam behind the legalization movement evaporated.

Yesterday Baldemar Velasquez, founder and president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO which is part of the National Legalization Movement, said he is regaining his optimism that some action will be taken.

“This is the one issue which matters to millions of Latino voters,'' he said en route to a meeting with political-affairs aides at the White House after a rally on Capitol Hill. “Eighty to ninety percent of all Latinos have some connection with this.''

Mr. Velasquez said that “getting legalization on the table on the front burner was the right thing to do before Sept. 11. It's even more the right thing to do after 9/11.''

Mr. Velasquez was upbeat after his meetings with the Bush administration and Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio). He said officials were responsive to a plan that could set up a three-year temporary residency with the possibility of permanent residency. During the three-year interim, the applicant would have to prove that he or she was employed, paid taxes, and free of criminal activity.

Supporters are trying to convince members of Congress that giving illegal immigrants temporary residency would be an economic boon to the United States by letting them work openly, travel openly, buy property openly, and pay more taxes.

They also insist that it would help America's security by bringing immigrants out of hiding and letting authorities know who is in the country.

Mr. Velasquez said if Republicans help push through a legal-worker program, they would benefit in such states as Florida, Texas, and California.

“If the deed follows the word, the administration will be hard to beat in the Latino community,” Mr. Velasquez said of the political capital the GOP could gain by supporting a legal worker program.



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