After hearing passionate appeals on both sides, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors this week endorsed a "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" framework proposed by eight U.S. lawmakers.
"This is a bipartisan effort. It lays out a tough but fair roadmap to citizenship," said Supervisor Marion Ashley, who joined Chairman John Benoit in introducing a resolution calling for support of legislation being drawn up by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
The so-called "Gang of Eight" are drafting an immigration reform plan based on a set of legislative "pillars" specifying how illegal immigrants can gain citizenship and what must be done to fortify the nation's immigration policies.
The plan's general provisions seek to ease requirements for undocumented minors to be granted citizenship; mandate that adults seeking citizenship register with the government and undergo background checks before their applications can be considered; and allow employers to "hire immigrants if it can be demonstrated that they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position."
The senators also state their desire to strengthen border security and implement a national system by which all job applicants are screened to confirm they're eligible to work in the U.S.
Around 20 people on both sides of immigration reform addressed the board. Most of those in favor of Ashley's and Benoit's resolution spoke only Spanish and were affiliated with immigrants' rights organizations in the Coachella Valley and Perris.
"You cannot ignore millions of people living in the U.S. We work in the fields, picking everything. We work in construction, factories. Who takes these jobs? Only our people. Support the reform," Antonio Ayala of Perris told the board.
"A lot of the kids would make good citizens," said Josephine Lopez. "Please support this."
Raymond Herrera of Riverside lambasted Ashley and Benoit, accusing them of catering to the illegal immigrant lobby -- to the detriment natural-born citizens.
"Deport anybody who is here illegally," Herrera said. "You're saying it's OK to displace my American children. It's not your job being given away. It's time to uphold the Constitution, not subvert it."
A woman identified as Robin said the supervisors' resolution promoted amnesty.
"We want our laws enforced," she said. "We don't need comprehensive immigration reform. We need comprehensive immigration enforcement. Our laws should be upheld and respected."
Benoit called the senators' proposal an "equitable resolution to a longstanding problem," while Ashley acknowledged it was a compromise not everybody would be happy with, but was still "the best chance for realizing change."
Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Jeff Stone expressed strong reservations but agreed to back the resolution as long as there were amendments to it that reflected their concerns.
Stone's amendment, which the entire board accepted, read: "The county supports humane pathways to citizenship, but we call upon Congress to fully fund local governments' unfunded programs that provide services for undocumented immigrants in our jails, who are receiving healthcare and unemployment benefits, food stamps, educational benefits, etc."
The board also added Jeffries' amendment to the resolution, emphasizing the county's preference for criminal background checks on all illegal immigrants applying for citizenship and the nationwide use of E-Verify, a federal Internet-based program that relies on Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to determine whether a prospective employee is documented.
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