As local Republicans ate their weekly lunch at Jack’s Gourmet Restaurant on Friday, the buzz was about Thursday’s televised debate of the GOP presidential candidates.
The debate highlighted the differences of opinion among Republicans on the issue of illegal immigration. While Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado argued for stronger laws, Sen. John McCain of Arizona advocated comprehensive reform that would include a temporary worker program, similar to one proposed by President Bush.
With the talking points of the 10 presidential hopefuls still fresh in their minds, the group of about 25 Columbia Pachyderms lent an ear to another point of view: that of Joyce Mucci, the southern region’s representative of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Her half-hour speech focused on reforming state and federal immigration policy and criticized President Bush’s proposed temporary worker program. The program would allow illegal immigrants to temporarily work in a variety of sectors with legal status and some civil rights protections before they are forced to return home.
Calling a guest worker program “completely unfair,” Mucci cited Sept. 11 as illustrating the need to secure the border. She also said businesses that hire illegal immigrants should be punished and that states should beef up laws to prevent illegal immigrants from attending public universities.
One bill that drew praise from Mucci is Missouri Senate Bill 348, which would prevent illegal immigrants from attending Missouri public colleges and universities. The “Missouri Omnibus Immigration Act” would also require all businesses to verify an employee’s work status, allow municipalities to prohibit employers from hiring undocumented workers and require the state to help enforce federal immigration law.
“People in this state should not be paying for the upward mobility of illegal aliens,” Mucci said, estimating the number of illegal immigrants in America to be “between 15 and 20 million.”
In March, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report that used Census Bureau data and population figures to estimate the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. as 11.5 million to 12 million. The Pew report also estimates the number of undocumented workers in the U.S. to be about 5 percent of the nation’s work force, or about 7.2 million people.
Mucci asked audience members to think about the long-term effects of a temporary worker program. “How are we going to handle the bureaucracy? Who is going to handle the background checks, the appeals processes, the back taxes owed?” she asked. “Until those questions are answered, we can’t have an honest discussion about illegal immigration.”
Mucci said the number of undocumented workers employed by American businesses has hurt law-abiding citizens. “The American worker is suffering,” she said. “We need to put systems in place that would level the playing field.”
According to its Web site, FAIR was founded in 1979 as nonprofit immigration reform agency and has about 250,000 members.
Missourian reporter Ashley Smith contributed to this report.