Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation are under fire from an immigration-reform group for sponsoring legislation critics say is little more than stealth amnesty for illegal aliens.

Republican Reps. Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, as well as Sen. John McCain, have co-sponsored H.R. 2899, the Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act, which they claim is really a “guest worker program.”

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.

According to Kolbe, who introduced the bill July 25, it is designed to “halt illegal immigration, make it easier for foreign workers to apply for visas and offer incentives for illegal immigrants in the U.S. to seek legal status.”

“With this legislation, we have worked hard to find a practical and progressive way to deal with the many problems associated with illegal border crossings and the need to find workers to fill positions no domestic worker is willing to take,” he said.

Kolbe, in a description of the legislation posted on his website, says the bill “does not provide amnesty for current undocumented population but provides a way for undocumented immigrants to work toward legal status.”

“Our new visa programs will allow a safe and accessible way for United States businesses, which are desperate to find individuals to fill their job openings, to find and employ able and hard-working foreign workers,” Kolbe said.

But analysts at Project USA, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates reducing legal immigration to “sustainable levels,” says despite the bill’s language, it is designed to accomplish the same thing as amnesty.

“What the bill actually does is give illegal aliens the option of either returning to their home countries or obtaining a visa that allows them to remain in the country and eventually gain permanent legal status – hardly an encouragement to the illegal alien to return home,” says an e-mail alert issued by Project USA.

Craig Nelson, the organization’s executive director, says the bill won’t stop illegal immigration.

“Like every amnesty before it, it will only make it worse,” he told WorldNetDaily. “It sends yet another signal to billions around the world that we’re really not serious about immigration policy, so come on in.”

McCain says the bill is a necessary life-saving tool, claiming too many migrants from Mexico – the home of most illegal immigrants in the U.S. – are dying in the southwestern deserts just to secure a better life.

“We must remember that border crossers come to the United States in search of jobs in order to support themselves and their families,” he said in a statement. “These unnecessary deaths underscore the urgency to reform our current immigration system.”

Statistics show a record number of immigrant deaths in Arizona over the past year, he said.

Michele Waslin, senior immigration policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, agreed, saying reform of immigration laws are needed.

“We’ve got a situation where our immigration laws really don’t work. We’ve got at least 8.5 million undocumented people living and working in this country. People are paying smugglers large amounts to come into this country. People are dying at the border,” she told WorldNetDaily.

“Employers continue to hire undocumented workers. And the federal government has not stepped up to the plate and taken on serious immigration reform,” she added.

Regarding jobs, critics contend the legislation will mean fewer employment opportunities for Americans – especially at a time when U.S. unemployment rates are high – a point disputed by lawmakers backing the bill.

“Whether we are in the middle of a jobless recovery or not, Americans are not taking these jobs. They are not interested in turning down beds at hotels and working in the fields,” Kolbe said in an L.A. Times interview Sept. 6.

But, as WorldNetDaily reported, other immigration-reform groups say lawmakers and corporations are abusing current laws aimed at importing foreign workers, to the detriment of American counterparts.

A study released earlier this month by the Federation for American Immigration Reform found some industries – especially the high-tech sector – have been especially hard hit due to companies importing high numbers of cheaper foreign workers.

If it continues, argue immigration-reform groups – and the bill just introduced by the Arizona lawmakers would fuel the trend, critics contend – foreign workers and immigrants will be permitted to absorb an ever larger share of the U.S. job market.

Yet, it is unrealistic, say proponents, to expect Washington to locate, seize and expel everyone who is in the country illegally, both in economic and practical terms.

“Groups that think we should just deport everybody are not being realistic. That would be devastating for our country – socially and economically,” says Waslin. “You’d have to institute some kind of military police state to do that, and then everyone’s civil rights, civil liberties, would be violated.”

“Also, so much of our economy is dependent on … undocumented labor,” she said. “Employers need workers, so there should be legal channels for them to come.”

Still, Nelson says if history is any guide, the legislation will only encourage illegal immigration.

“The last major amnesty was the 1986 amnesty” during the Reagan administration, he said. “That one was supposed to be the ‘last one ever.'”

He also said the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, in a 1999 report, “released a study that flat-out linked the ’86 amnesty to an increase in illegal immigration.”

“That shouldn’t surprise anyone, except maybe [Missouri Democratic Rep.] Dick Gephardt or Jeff Flake,” he said.

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