This draconian legislation has been dubbed “The Berlin Wall bill” because of its authoritarian and repressive anti-immigrant clauses, including the construction of a wall along almost 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border to deter undocumented immigrants from entering the United States from México.
But in a telephone interview with a La Prensa reporter ten days later, Strickland tried to allay concerns over his December vote to support the bill, but stopped far short of issuing an apology.
Nor does his Web site at www.tedstrickland.com contain language of regret or an apology. La Prensa attempted to reach Congressman Strickland for further clarification on this vital issue to Latinos but had not received a response by press time.
Here’s how it went.
Strickland, who represents Ohio’s 6th U.S. Congressional district, acknowledged that 82 percent of House Democrats voted against House bill HR 4437, which is now pending in the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate.
So why did Strickland break with the vast majority of his party?
“There were several amendments including the wall or fence that I voted against before final passage,” explains Strickland. “But I want to be as clear as I can be. I do believe we have a serious problem with our borders. But I don’t think we should respond that way by passing legislation that is misguided and harmful to innocent people.
“I ended up voting for the final package because I understood that the bill was not in its final form and would go to the Senate and then back to a joint committee and the House before being signed into law. If the final bill contained the amendments I had voted against, if they somehow remained in the bill, I am committed to opposing it.
“If it comes out of the Senate and the onerous provisions intact remain there, I am prepared to oppose it. But I really don’t think the Senate will pass it,” says Strickland.
Congressman Strickland may be tested shortly on this promise to La Prensa.
A bipartisan bill has been offered as an alternative or substitute to HR 4437 by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and there is some movement in the Senate to get their bill considered.
However, another bill—akin to Sensenbrenner’s Berlin Wall bill—has been proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) has issued an alert to this alternative bill.
According to Beatriz Maya of FLOC, “Although we have not seen yet the complete bill, it looks like the bill proposed by Senator Specter [is] more similar to the Sensenbrenner (HR 4437) bill than the Kennedy-McCain.”
“[With Specter’s bill] For the undocumented, there would be indefinite, conditional, and temporary status, with no extra provision made to provide a path to permanent residency outside of a revised family and employment visa preference system. In effect, millions of the undocumented would be consigned to a permanent second-class status,” added Maya.
FLOC and numerous Latino organizations are opposed to both HR 4437 and the related Specter bill; and encourage individuals to contact their senators and express their concerns, especially to U.S. Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
[Senator Mike DeWine can be reached at 419-259-7536 or 202-224-2315. A complete version of this FLOC alert and a summary review of the Specter bill can be viewed on line, linked to this commentary here.]
Speaking for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH), who is up for election in November, Breann González, Deputy Press Secretary of the Senator, issued this statement Monday to La Prensa.
“Senator Specter’s immigration bill is one piece of legislation that will be in front of the Judiciary Committee over the next few weeks. As Senator DeWine and other members of the Committee begin to consider the bill and other approaches to this issue, Senator DeWine thinks we need to work toward immigration reform that includes stronger enforcement at our borders, and a viable guestworker program.”
Ms. González said Sen. DeWine was traveling Monday and was unavailable for further comment.
Attempts by La Prensa to obtain comment from U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH)—Senator DeWine’s opponent this year—and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) at press time were unsuccessful.
Strickland further explains his vote for HR 4437
“I realize this is a very emotional issue,” says Strickland, “And I hope we can come up with some solution that is acceptable. But I didn’t want the process to be killed, which is why I voted for the bill.”
Strickland is concerned over what he terms as “exploitation of people on both sides of the border.” He recognizes that the advantage for U.S. employers is the access to cheap labor. “But we have people working under conditions that are harsh and unfair, and with no opportunity to have a stable life in this country. Something has to be done in terms of providing permanent residency and citizenship.
“We need a policy that is coherent, a policy that will give them some ability to move toward stability, and toward permanent residency, one that will let them work toward citizenship,” says Strickland.
“Along with Rep. Marcy Kaptur, I went to México for the 10th anniversary of NAFTA. I talked with people in Juárez who work nine-and-a-half hours a day, five days a week, for $38 a week.
“I went into the countryside outside México City and met farmers who are unable to eke out a living. Everything is now owned by the agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer-Midland-Daniels. I was told repeatedly that ‘all our young people have left and gone north.’
“I am ashamed that we are continuing to perpetuate that kind of human exploitation. The situation we have now is not working well and needs to be changed,” says Strickland.
The congressman stressed that he is very close to the Latino leadership in the House, and that he serves on committees with many Latino representatives.
He acknowledged that his campaign has numerous Latino volunteers, but no Latinos are on his paid staff. Asked why this is the case, Strickland replies, “We are in the early stages of campaign development. We are not geared up to full speed yet in terms of a statewide staff.”
Adds Strickland, “My goal is to have an inclusive campaign and an inclusive administration. I do not want anyone, any group, any region to be excluded from a Strickland-Fisher administration.”
Editor’s Note: A copy of the controversial bill HR 4437 and FLOC’s objection to the Specter bill, which is now before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, can be viewed on line at www.laprensa1.com, or at: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h109-4437