Immigration debate sparks outburst
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The rancorous national debate over illegal immigration spilled into the California Assembly on Tuesday as Democrats yanked an immigration resolution after a testy, partisan exchange that drew an outburst from Speaker Fabian Nunez.
The Los Angeles Democrat emerged from his office to silence Republican critics who were lambasting the nonbinding resolution. “We’re pulling the bill. You’ve got a problem with that?” he asked before uttering an expletive about Republican nitpicking and leaving the chamber, slamming the door that joins the Assembly to his conference room.
Democrats wanted a vote on a nonbinding resolution urging Congress to pass immigration reform. It called upon President Bush and Congress to reject “mean-spirited” and extreme immigration laws, referring to a House bill that called, in part, for making it a felony to be in the country illegally.
The move by Democrats to withdraw the bill came after lawmakers bickered over whether the measure also promoted decriminalizing illegal immigration.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, described the resolution as the most divisive document to come before the Assembly this year. He demanded that Nunez come to the floor to defend it.
“If we’re telling Congress, ‘Do not make illegal immigration criminal,’ why don’t we tell all the thieves in California who steal, ‘You’re not a thief?”‘ Spitzer said.
Afterward, he told a reporter he was not offended by the speaker’s retaliatory remarks.
“He’s not mad at me. I’m just the messenger,” Spitzer said.
But Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for the Assembly Republican Caucus, said Nunez’s language “was completely unprofessional given the seriousness of the issue of illegal immigration.”
Nunez did not respond to requests for further comment.
His spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said the speaker is “passionate about immigration.” He also said many members in the Democrat-controlled Legislature had expected the resolution to pass before Republicans raised objections.
Democrats had hoped to send a resolution to Congress in an effort to add California’s voice to the national debate over illegal immigration. Assembly Democrats argued that Congress should give an estimated 12 million immigrants in the country illegally a path to citizenship, while Republicans said the resolution endorsed illegal immigration. Specifically, they questioned a sentence that asked the president and Congress to reject immigration-reform efforts that would criminalize individuals because of their immigration status.
Republicans countered that efforts to loosen citizenship rules for illegal immigrants already in the United States would open the floodgates.
The Bush administration has urged Congress to enact a temporary worker program to allow at least some illegal immigrants to remain in the country. The U.S. Senate has approved legislation that generally follows Bush’s plan, but the House advocated its own bill over concerns that Bush’s strategy would amount to amnesty.
The House passed a bill last December that would make it a felony to be in the country illegally, criminalize people who help illegal immigrants and build a 700-mile-long fence along the border with Mexico.
On the Net:
Read the resolution, AJR51, at http://www.assembly.ca.gov