By Oscar Avila
Bush's speech leaves activists grumbling
Tue May 16, 2006 00:47

Bush's speech leaves activists grumbling

By Oscar Avila
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 15, 2006, 10:03 PM CDT

President Bush drew a few boos Monday night from the organizers of this month's massive immigrant march in Chicago when he proposed sending National Guard troops to the Mexico border.

Likewise, the founder of the Chicago Minuteman Project said he nearly gagged when he heard Bush say he supported granting legal status to many of the nation's 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants.

As these first impressions show, both sides of the contentious debate over illegal immigration, which has publicly played out in Illinois in recent weeks, had reason to grumble after the televised speech.

Afterward, Illinois activists said they must now decide whether they support an immigration reform plan that might not give them everything they want.

Juan Salgado, a co-organizer of the massive May 1 march that drew hundreds of thousands to Grant Park, called the speech a positive first step, particularly Bush's explicit commitment to some form of legalization. But Salgado who gathered with dozens of advocates to watch the speech at a West Side restaurant, said he still wanted more "clarity" about who would be eligible.

That debate puts immigrant advocates in a bind, several said privately. When they hold a regional summit on Saturday, they must decide whether to officially back a limited legalization plan backed by Bush and a bipartisan group of senators. Some say they will not compromise and prefer to stick with their demand that legalization is granted to all illegal immigrants.

"I think it's important for Congress to pass something but it's also important for us to have something that is workable and fair for everyone," said Tuyet Le, executive director of the Uptown-based Asian American Institute.

Rick Biesada, co-founder of the Chicago Minuteman Project, said he is glad that Bush plans to dispatch more manpower to the border. But he said "amnesty" would send a bad message to legal immigrants and U.S. citizens who play by the rules.

"The speech was nothing but a publicity stunt. He is trying to appease everybody and pander to everybody," said Biesada, who helped patrol the border last year as part of the volunteer group. "He has to make the hard decisions. These people entered the country illegally. They should not be rewarded."

Although Illinois is hundreds of miles from the border, the issue of illegal immigration resonates here. The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that about 400,000 illegal immigrants live in Illinois, the sixth-largest population in the country.

Both sides say Bush's speech makes it more urgent that they stay active.

Members of the Illinois Minuteman Project held their largest rally to date last week at House Speaker Dennis Hastert's district office in Batavia. Meanwhile, two busloads of immigrant advocates left Pilsen on Monday night bound for a day of lobbying lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday.

"We still have the opportunity and the need to keep the pressure up," said Jose Artemio Arreola, a march organizer who watched the speech with his colleagues. "This is not over."

Copyright 2006, Chicago Tribune

In Speech, A Balancing Act of Policy And Politics




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