Wednesday, November 7, 2001
Hahn: Let Mexicans stay here
By Rick Orlov Staff Writer
Mayor James Hahn touched off a debate over illegal immigration on Tuesday as he ended a two-day trade mission to Mexico by saying he supports an effort to legalize the status of undocumented Mexicans who have lived in Los Angeles for years.
"I think that what we are looking for is some kind of legal status that needs to be recognized for people who have been in Los Angeles for a number of years," Hahn said at a press conference in Mexico City after meeting with President Vicente Fox and boosting tourism and trade.
In a telephone interview later with the Daily News, he expanded on his comments.
"For people who have demonstrated a longtime commitment to this country and this city and have worked in Los Angeles, paid taxes and not been involved in any criminal activity, I think something needs to be done for them," Hahn said. "I'm not saying full citizenship, but something short of that so they don't face deportation."
Earlier this year President George W. Bush opened a public debate on partial legalization but the issue has disappeared since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dramatically heightened concern over immigration.
"I am exactly where President Bush is on this," Hahn said. "The security of the country has to be No. 1, but it doesn't change the fact that we have a lot of people who have made Los Angeles their home and are living by the rules. It seems to me they need some sort of recognition for that."
Hahn raised the issue at a time when Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republicans like Rep. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley are pushing for tighter border controls and immigration policies.
But the mayor found immediate favor with groups that advocate amnesty for illegal immigrants.
"We agree wholeheartedly with the mayor and appreciate and support his perspective," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights in Los Angeles.
"Los Angeles is the largest immigrant city in the world, with 2.4 million immigrants, and Mexicans represent about one-third of that. They are in every job and industry in the city. And, since Sept. 11, they want to be part of the community but are afraid and can't."
Critics of U.S. immigration policy criticized Hahn for his remarks.
Glenn Spencer, of Voice of Citizens Together, a group opposed to illegal immigrants, said Hahn was courting political danger.
"This is very thin ice for him," Spencer said. "I think 85 (percent) to 90 percent of Americans would oppose this idea, so he isn't speaking for the American citizen. I wonder who he is speaking for. It's time to have an open debate about this."
Hahn has tried to repair his relations within the Latino community since his attacks on former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa during the mayoral campaign prompted widespread criticism for bordering on racism.
Other city officials said they would have no comment on the mayor's statements.
As for the other aspects of the mayor's trip -- designed to boost relations with Mexico and bring in more trade -- Hahn was upbeat.
"We couldn't have asked for a better result in bringing business to Los Angeles," Hahn said.
He announced agreements had been reached with Aeromexico to expand services at Ontario Airport after a meeting with the airline's president, Alfonso Pasquel.
Hahn said the agreement calls for additional flights to Ontario, including a daily round-trip service to Hermosillo beginning in January.
In addition, the mayor announced that Grupo Gigante has agreed to open five new stores in Los Angeles next year, creating nearly 1,000 jobs, which would double the number of stores the company has in the city.
In Washington, D.C., Gallegly introduced legislation Tuesday to close loopholes in the visa system, a bill that mirrors one authored by Feinstein to create a new visa document, using fingerprint or eye-scan technology, that would be scanned whenever a foreign visitor enters or leaves the United States.
"The attacks of Sept. 11 made it imperative that the United States have a reliable, tamper-proof system to identify and track foreign visitors to our country," said Gallegly, whose measure would also require airlines and other carriers to submit passenger and crew lists before arrival in the United States.
Also on Tuesday, former government officials cited a litany of immigration law loopholes during a forum at the National Press Club in Washington.
"Sept. 11 shows that our borders are out of control," said Bill King, a retired Border Patrol official who oversaw operations in Southern California.
He said an estimated 8 million undocumented aliens live in the United States, including 3 million people who have overstayed their visas. "We have no idea who they are, where they are and what they are up to."
King, speaking at a forum sponsored by the Center for Immigration Studies, advocated deploying the military to back up the Border Patrol and stepping up arrests and deportations.
He also criticized an alleged lack of support from the Los Angeles Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies. Since 1979, the LAPD has banned cooperation with federal immigration officials under the city's Special Order 40.
--- Staff Writer Bill Hillburg contributed to this report.