ATLANTA - For months, advocates for a tougher stand against illegal immigration have argued that the U.S. should treat illegals who come here the same way Mexico treats people entering that country illegally.
Now, that philosophy is encompassed in legislation introduced in the House this week by U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Duluth.
"They're very tough on the border. We're not," Linder said Wednesday. "To me, it's important to make sure people know the distinction between the two."
The bill would give the federal Department of Homeland Security added responsibilities, including creating and maintaining a registry of every foreign person in the United States.
It also would require all ground, sea and air carriers to verify that all passengers they bring into the country are entering legally.
While employers would be prohibited from hiring illegal immigrants, those who enter the U.S. legally could become permanent residents after five years.
A backlog in applications by legal immigrants for permanent resident status is frequently cited as contributing to the growth of illegal immigration into this country.
Linder's measure also carries stiff penalties and lengthy prison sentences for violators, especially repeat offenders and criminals engaged in human trafficking, in keeping with Mexican law governing illegal immigration.
Phil Kent, the Atlanta-based national spokesman for Americans for Immigration Control, said the mirroring of Mexican law by the tough provisions in Linder's bill stands in sharp contrast to the relatively lax immigration laws now in effect on this side of the border.
"You cannot work illegally at all in Mexico," he said. "It's difficult to be a guest worker. ... I think it's a very useful exercise for Congressman Linder to do this because it points out the hypocrisy of Mexico."
But Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said Linder's bill contains the same flaws found in an immigration-reform bill passed by the House last December. The House measure focuses on border security and internal enforcement.
"It's not providing a real solution," Gonzalez said. "It's political grandstanding."
Worse still, said Gonzalez, is the bill's timing. He said no immigration legislation introduced this late in the debate stands a chance of passing.
The House bill and a much different version of immigration reform approved by the Senate last month are headed for a conference committee. The Senate bill would provide an avenue for many of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to become citizens.
"This was introduced as a stand-alone bill," Kent said of Linder's legislation. "It isn't part of the mix of the House-Senate conference."
But Linder said he has received assurances from Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the Judiciary Committee and author of the House bill, that he will insert Linder's bill into the conference-committee negotiations.