Prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, labor leader Eliseo Medina had planned to fly to the Caribbean in an effort to expand a growing movement to obtain amnesty for illegal aliens beyond its Latino base.
Now, in an admission of how national priorities have shifted, Medina, the Los Angeles-based vice president of the Service Employees International Union, has put off this month's trip until January.
Medina and other liberal reformers acknowledge that the debate over immigration policy has been more than just temporarily set aside, but radically altered in the wake of the attacks.
"Some of the opponents are going to try and change what this debate is all about," said Medina, who has spearheaded labor's role in the movement, meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, as well as administration officials.
There is evidence that the attacks at least temporarily strengthened the hand of conservative opponents, who have criticized any kind of amnesty as the rewarding of law breakers.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chair of the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group favoring tougher laws against illegal immigration, says the attacks have killed any effort to liberalize the laws an attitude that may well resonate with the public given the massive loss of life.
"It certainly shows that there are inherent risks associated with immigration, and makes it politically unpalatable to hand out green cards to illegal immigrants," said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that has published papers critical of liberalization.
But liberal reformers are taking heart that President Bush may not back down from commitments he made to Fox just prior to the attacks.
Fox reportedly said that Bush called him after the attacks, promising to honor the commitment. And while Bush has made no public comments, his spokesman Ari Fleischer has indicated the president remains committed.
Medina plans a number of high profile local events, including addressing the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Oct. 19. The SEIU also plans on honoring the hundreds of illegal immigrant workers who were killed in the trade towers with a Day of the Dead Mass Nov. 1.
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