Youth-immigrant advocacy group opposes measures to help young illegals

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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A group that poses as a champion for young illegal immigrants is actively trying to stop immigration reforms that would provide short-term help to those young illegals.

The group, United We Dream (UWD), is closely tied to various powerful business interests and progressive groups.

The small-scale reforms “are cynical gestures … [and are not] true commitment to work for real change,” Lorella Praeli, the policy director for UWD, told reporters Dec. 3.

“Real change” consists of a mass amnesty, said Cristina Jimenez, the managing director the group. But that “will be a long struggle,” she admitted. (RELATED: UWD demands President Barack Obama work with Congress on immigration reform)

The “Dream” in UWD’s title refers to the 11-year-old Dream Act, which was intended to provide an amnesty for younger illegals. The bill has been repeatedly voted down in Congress, amid weak support from the public but strong support from business groups, progressives and certain liberal-leaning media outlets.

But the GOP demonstrated its willingness to offer immigration concessions Nov. 30, when House Republicans pushed through a bill that would please the high-tech and education sectors by offering work visas to 50,000 high-skill workers.

Nearly all GOP representatives supported the STEM measure, even though it would import large numbers of foreigners to compete against American college grads already working — or seeking jobs — in the high-tech sector.

Most Democrats also supported the new high-tech visas, but voted against the measure because it would also have required ending the annual award of 50,000 visas to low-skill immigrants through the so-called “Diversity Lottery.”

“We support the concept of the STEM-legislation, which is for high-skill visas,” said Praeli. “What we don’t support is trading that in for the diversity lottery.”

The lottery is strongly supported by progressives and ethnic and Islamic lobbies, because it awards visas to people with few skills or family connections.

Another proposed GOP measure, introduced Nov. 27 and dubbed the Achieve Act, would offer work permits to many illegal immigrants younger than 30. (RELATED VIDEO: Republican senators explain difficulty in drafting Dream Act alternative)

The Senate bill would immediately help many of the younger illegal immigrants, but it is opposed by progressives and UWD because it would not offer citizenship to the younger immigrants and would deny them the eventual ability to bring additional relatives into the country.

The Achieve proposal is “Dream-lite … [and] we find that to be cynical,” Praeli said.

Some advocates for reduced immigration say these modest reforms would sap support for progressives’ mass-amnesty goal.

Modest reforms, including an updated Dream Act, would “reduce [amnesty advocates’] pressure on Republicans, giving them something to point to on immigration,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

They also “take the most sympathetic groups [of illegal immigrants] off the tables … [including] science graduates and illegals who came as children,” Krikorian said.

But the small-scale reforms are dismissed by UWD, even though — if passed — they could provide rapid benefits to the younger illegals that the group claims to represent.

The rival alternatives of small reforms versus a mass amnesty is “really a false choice,” Jimenez said.

“That’s the way the politicians in D.C. want to frame the debate,” she said.

Every delay in passing youth amnesty means that many young immigrants remain illegal, and that some illegals become too old to qualify for amnesty.

UWD’s claim to be a champion for young illegal immigrants obscures the influence business interests and progressives have on its agenda. Many of those interests are seeking to boost the number and clout of Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters in the electorate.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) established UWD, which includes a top-level official from the Service Employees International Union on its board, in December 2008, during a Washington D.C. meeting arranged by NILC staffers.

Officials at the UWD group and the NILC declined to respond to The Daily Caller’s emails about their funding or their apparent willingness to sacrifice the interests of younger illegals for progressives’ political purposes.

“The immigrant youth leaders agreed that NILC should continue to anchor the network and NILC agreed to support it as a youth-led organizing network and become its fiscal sponsor,” according to the NILC.

The group was formed after Congress had again rejected the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for illegals aged up to 35.

NILC’s board members include several immigration lawyers, a representative from Spanish-language media companies and a Californian teachers’ association, All would gain customers from a mass amnesty.

The NILC and UWD groups work with the so-called “Dream Policy Table,” a coalition of more than 100 groups seeking to use younger illegals to win a mass amnesty.

The members include the ACLU, progressive groups such as the Center for Community Change and La Raza and numerous business groups, such as the American Association of State College and Universities, the University of California and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

These business groups stand to gain from amnesties, which will provide more customers for education and legal services.

The table’s membership also includes the SEIU, whose senior immigration-policy official, Josh Bernstein, also sits on UWD’s board.

The union’s top leaders have boosted the SEIU’s size by recruiting many foreigners now holding jobs in America, even though they lack legal permission to live in the United States, and even though 23 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have dropped out of the workforce.

The SEIU’s focus on illegals is part of a larger strategy to boost progressives’ political clout.

In June 2009, Eliseo Medina, a top SEIU official, urged progressives to push for an amnesty of illegal immigrants because it would boost progressives’ political power.

“It puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. … We will create a governing coalition for the long-term, not just for an election cycle,” Medino said.

A mass amnesty of the roughly 11 million illegals would put them in line to become citizens.

In turn, citizenship includes the right to bring in millions of their close relatives, including unskilled siblings and elderly parents. This “chain migration” has boosted the number of poor Americans and cost taxpayers many billions of dollars — but it has also boosted the political clout of progressive groups, such as the SEIU.

UWD’s leadership shares this progressive goal.

President Obama’s re-election “really puts us in a position to be bold about our vision. … That means for us really envisioning policy changes that will provide a path for citizenship of the 11 million” illegal aliens in the country, said Jimenez, UWD’s managing director.

The cooperation of political and business special interests is routine in the immigration debate, and includes many companies that normally associate themselves with the GOP.

For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has established a coalition with the SEIU and La Raza to push for a mass amnesty. Bruce Josten, the chambers’s executive vice president for government affairs, told TheDC Nov. 29 that the chamber opposed the STEM and Achieve bills, and would prefer a so-called “comprehensive” bill.

Targeted measures, responded Krikorian, don’t really get [the Chamber of Commerce] what they want, which is the ability to import an unlimited number of workers from abroad in any occupation at wage above the minimum wage.”

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