Friday, December 22, 2006

By William M. Welch, USA TODAY
From massive urban marches by Latinos to law-enforcement sweeps of illegal meatpacking workers, 2006 was a year when immigration became the domestic issue the United States could not ignore.

Concern about the influx of illegal immigrants, mainly from Mexico, grew into a major issue that echoed through the November election campaigns.

Towns and cities across the country expressed frustration with the issue by passing anti-illegal-immigration ordinances and resolutions.

Hundreds of thousands of Latinos marched through Los Angeles and other cities in the spring to show their opposition to get-tough legislation. Many waved Mexican flags, prompting criticism.

The long border with Mexico was a focal point of the debate. Congress voted to construct 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the border.

President Bush directed 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. He proposed a "guest worker" program that would offer citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA. Opponents derided the proposal as an amnesty for lawbreakers, and it was not acted on by Congress.

Volunteers with the Minuteman Project kept up their patrols. The border remained porous. Near San Diego, federal agents found numerous secret tunnels, raising fears that if poor immigrants could get into the USA that way, so could terrorists.

Federal immigration officials stepped up enforcement. Last week, more than 1,200 meatpacking workers suspected of immigrating illegally were arrested in six states. Some face identity-theft charges.