On Monday morning, Julie McSorley invited Liz Cottriel, her friend of 27 years, to go kayaking off Avila Beach, Calif., in San Luis Obispo County, where they both live. The idea was simply to spend a pleasant day whale watching off California’s Central Coast.They set off in a yellow kayak, soaking in the views of humpback whales feeding and breaching in the distance, a sight that Ms. McSorley had enjoyed the day before with her husband.- Advertisement – – Advertisement – The friends were about a half-mile from shore when they noticed schools of silver fish around their kayak, making a sound that Ms. Cottriel, 63, an office manager for an orthodontist, likened to “crackling glass.”“We knew something was about to happen, but we didn’t know where the whale was exactly,” said Ms. McSorley, 55, a physical therapist. “She popped up and I popped up right after her,” Ms. Cottriel said.An off-duty firefighter who was paddle-boarding nearby helped them right the kayak. “He checked to see if we had our arms and legs and everything,” Ms. McSorley said.Another kayaker found their paddles and returned them to the women, who were not injured except for some bruises to Ms. Cottriel’s arms and hip. “I am fine,” she said.But they had a scare that they will remember for the rest of their lives.“It has been a whirlwind of adrenaline,” Ms. McSorley said.“The more I reflect on it, the more I think, ‘This could have been it,’” Ms. Cottriel said.Humpback whales are typically found along the West Coast and off the coasts of Alaska, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.The mammals, which can weigh up to 40 tons, feed on krill and small fish by filtering large volumes of ocean water through their baleen plates, according to NOAA. Humpbacks are a favorite of whale watchers, who thrill at the sight of them jumping out of the water and slapping the surface with their pectoral fins or tails.Back on shore on Monday, Ms. Cottriel found that she had a small souvenir of the experience.As she shook her wet shirt, “out came five or six silver fish,” she said with a laugh. “I am dumping fish out of my shirt. We found humor in it.” A humpback whale then suddenly surfaced underneath their kayak, lifting them about six feet above the water, they said.- Advertisement – “I kind of went blank,” Ms. McSorley said. “It was a matter of a second or two.”“All I saw was white and I pushed my hand out and I thought, ‘I am getting crushed,’ because I thought it was either going to land on me or I was going to drown,” Ms. Cottriel said. “I am literally looking inside the whale’s mouth.”A nearby kayaker captured video of the wild encounter on a cellphone. In it, witnesses scream as the whale breaches, capsizing the kayak and tossing the women into the water.- Advertisement –
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said, “Unless the White House produces 60 or 70 Republican votes in the House, it will be difficult to pass an immigration bill similar to the Senate proposal.” Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., a former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said he had grave concerns about the Senate bill. “It’s a pretty radical shift to go to an employment-based visa system as opposed to a family system,” Becerra said in an interview. “You will continue to have close family members separated from their loved ones because of this policy.” The bill includes a temporary-worker program, under which 400,000 to 600,000 foreign workers could be admitted to the country each year. Becerra said the proposal would create “a permanent underclass of imported workers to fill American jobs.” The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered cautionary words as well, saying: “I have serious concerns about some aspects of this proposal, including the structure of its temporary-worker program and undue limitations on family immigration. We need to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process.” Kennedy has acknowledged that the agreement is not the ideal immigration bill that he would have written in another political environment. But on Thursday he said, “The agreement is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders, bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America.” The deal sets the stage for a rare, and much needed, victory for Bush, who set a goal of establishing a new immigration system at the start of his term but saw it stymied by his own party. On Bush’s agenda As the governor of Texas, Bush had seen firsthand the challenges of border security and the lengths to which impoverished Mexicans were willing to go to enter the country illegally. He said “a rational immigration system” – one that would offer a temporary-worker program and a way for those who have set up working lives here illegally to become citizens – was a major part of his “compassionate conservative” agenda. But the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks derailed his plan, and by the time he set out to enact it in his second term conservatives were livid over what they called deplorably inadequate efforts to secure the border. That anger remains, and is seen within the Republican Party as a prime, motivating force for conservative voters in the next presidential election. When the Democrats took control of Congress in November, Bush said that at the very least the takeover indicated new hope for his immigration proposals. Earlier this year, White House officials had worried that neither party would be motivated to strike a deal, with Democrats disinclined to hand Bush a victory. The issue is complicated enough for the Democrats themselves, with liberals opposing various enforcement provisions under consideration and conservative Democrats opposing steps toward citizenship for those here illegally. But with the intense debate over the war taking center stage, the parties and the White House were more than open to working on an agreement that would allow them to claim an accomplishment on the domestic front. Defense, offense As soon as the agreement was announced, players on both sides of the immigration issue rolled out their defense and their offense. Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, defended the proposal in a television appearance on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” whose host has become one of the most vocal critics of Bush’s immigration policy. Dobbs opened the program by calling the deal an apparent victory for “the pro-illegal-alien lobby.” He said the administration was “hellbent on creating a North American union without the consent of the American people,” and said the plan could “threaten national sovereignty and security as well.” John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, denounced the bill from a different angle, saying it would create “a massive guest-worker program.” Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., said he would offer an amendment to omit the program. Negotiators emphasized that foreign-born spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens would continue to receive preference in the allocation of visas. Moreover, they said, family ties would be an advantage in the proposed new point system. If two applicants had the same skills and the same educational credentials, but one also had relatives in the United States, that person would receive the visa. The negotiators insisted that the legalization program was different from amnesty because illegal immigrants would have to pay fines and go through background checks. Local reaction Several California officials criticized the agreement Thursday, including California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles. Nuñez said he welcomed movement on what has long been a controversial issue, but has some concerns. “While I am pleased that after years of inaction, Congress finally is moving forward on the leading economic and humanitarian issue facing our state, I have serious concerns about some elements of the proposal,” he said. Nuñez cited provisions that authorize expansions of bracero-type guest-worker programs that fundamentally violate workers’ rights and “heavy-handed security provisions that violate constitutional and human rights of citizens and noncitizens alike, as well as damage U.S. relations with Mexico.” Nuñez urged congressional leaders and the California congressional delegation to oppose any legislation that divides immigrants into eligibility tiers; obligates return to home countries to apply; requires intolerably long probationary periods; imposes legalization-security triggers; separates families; and charges exorbitant fees and penalties. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich criticized the measure’s amnesty proposal, calling it “another blank check for taxpayer-subsidized services.” “The billions of dollars required to implement amnesty would be better spent on establishing teaching medical centers on the Mexican side of our border states … (to) reduce the incentive for individuals to come here illegally.” Antonovich said illegal immigrants and their children cost county taxpayers $440 million a year in welfare payments and food stamps alone. – Daily News Major provisions CURRENT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS They could come forward immediately and receive probationary legal status. Bill creates a new four-year, renewable “Z” nonimmigrant visa for those present within the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2007. Nonimmigrants may adjust status to lawful permanent residence once they pay $5,000 in fees and fines and their head of household returns to their home country. People under age 30 who were brought to the U.S. as minors could receive their green cards after three years, rather than eight. Nonimmigrant farmworkers who can demonstrate they have worked 150 hours or three years in agriculture can apply for green cards. BORDER SECURITY Hire 18,000 new Border Patrol agents. Erect 200 miles of vehicle barriers and 370 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Erect 70 ground-based radar and camera towers along the southern border. Deploy four unmanned aerial vehicles and supporting systems. End the program in which illegal immigrants are released upon apprehension. Provide for detaining up to 27,500 aliens per day on an annual basis. WORKPLACE ENFORCEMENT Require employers to electronically verify new employees to prove identity and work eligibility. Increase penalties for unlawful hiring, employment and record-keeping violations. GUEST WORKERS (requires border security measures to be in place first) Create a new temporary guest-worker program with two-year “Y” visas, initially capped at 400,000 per year with annual adjustments based on market fluctuations. Workers could renew the Y visa up to three times, but would be required to return home for a year in between each time. Those bringing dependents could obtain only one, nonrenewable two-year visa. Families could accompany guest workers only if they could show proof of medical insurance and demonstrate that their wages were 150 percent above the poverty level. FUTURE IMMIGRANTS Spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents would be eligible for green cards based purely on their family connections, but other relatives such as adult children and siblings would not. 380,000 visas a year would be awarded based on a point system, with about 50 percent based on employment criteria, 25 percent based on education, 15 percent on English proficiency and 10 percent on family connections. Apply new limits to U.S. citizens seeking to bring foreign-born parents into the country.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – Senate negotiators from both parties announced Thursday that they had reached agreement on a comprehensive immigration bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants while also toughening border security. If the bill becomes law, it would result in the biggest changes in immigration law and policy in more than 20 years. That would provide President George W. Bush with a political lift and a tangible accomplishment for his second term, as well as a solid achievement for the new Democratic leadership in Congress. At the heart of the bill is a significant political trade-off. Democrats got a legalization program, which they have sought for many years. Republicans got a new “merit-based system of immigration,” intended to make the United States more competitive in a global economy. But the politics of the deal remain precarious. Democrats already are trying to tamp down concerns of Hispanic groups, who fear that the bill would make it more difficult for immigrants to bring in relatives from abroad. At the same time, Republican negotiators face blistering criticism from some conservatives, who say the bill would grant a virtual amnesty to people who had broken the law. Bush praised the Senate measure, which incorporates many of his ideas, saying, “I really am anxious to sign a comprehensive immigration bill as soon as I possibly can.” The bill goes to the Senate floor next week, where negotiators predicted that it would receive overwhelming support. One reason for that optimism was the symbolic partnership in evidence at the news conference where the package was announced by 10 senators, including Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the Senate’s most liberal members, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., a staunch conservative who is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., came off the presidential campaign trail to embrace the compromise, a potentially risky step because the proposal is unpopular with many conservatives, who are expected to play a large role in choosing the party’s presidential candidate. Unclear in House The measure’s prospects are less clear in the House, which plans to take up immigration in July.