Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/15/2009 06:57:25 PM PST

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday launched a renewed effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, is a co-sponsor of the bill that provides a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

The bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, would also repeal the 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement agencies to perform some immigration functions.

Baca said the bill is a collaborative effort to “finally fix” America’s broken immigration system that has caused “both a humanitarian and economic crisis for our nation.”

“This issue affects not just Latinos, but immigrants in all walks of life from all over the globe,” Baca said in a statement.

He said the bill increases security at ports and borders, reforms guest-worker laws and creates tough workplace enforcement provisions.

Included in the bill is a measure that Baca introduced to place qualified undocumented high school graduates on “a fast track for citizenship.”

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 also includes measures to reduce backlogs in visa processing, improve detention conditions for incarcerated immigrants, and reunite families separated by immigration status.

To qualify for a conditional visa allowing them to work and stay in the country for six years, illegal immigrants must pay a $500 fine and prove they have made contributions to the country through employment, education, military or community service. They cannot have any felony convictions or three or more misdemeanors on their record.

They can subsequently apply for green cards and eventual citizenship if they pass background checks, meet English and civic requirements and pay taxes.

Area Republican lawmakers said they would oppose any bill that rewards people who are in the country illegally.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, David Dreier, R-San Dimas, and Gary Miller, R-Walnut, said the federal government needs to secure the border and strengthen the E-Verify system that ensures employers hire legal workers.

“As Americans continue to struggle with our economic downturn, there is scant support for legislation allowing millions of illegal immigrants to gain amnesty,” Lewis said in a statement.

Dreier urged support for his own bill, the Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act, that provides employers with a counterfeit-proof tool to verify employment eligibility.

Despite the opposition, Baca predicted the effort will succeed.

“Working together – we can and will move America forward to keep our nation secure, and ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity,” Baca said. “Comprehensive immigration reform will be a reality in 2010.”

Others don’t think so.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, called the bill “political theater” designed to appease Latino activist groups that voted for President Barack Obama on the promise he would enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Because the bill lacks a large guestworker program, he said it is likely to be opposed by big business and defeated in Congress.

“Even though it’s a pretty radical bill, it’s basically dead on arrival,” Krikorian said.

Miguel Tinker-Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College, said the bill is an effort to “frame the immigration debate before `the right’ or anybody else attempts to simply frame it as a question of national security or the scapegoating of immigrants for economic problems we’re currently having.”

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