|San Diego Union-Tribune
July 17, 2001
White House tones down reports on amnesty
It places emphasis on guest worker program
By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Hoping to fend off a wave of false hope among
Mexicans and a potential political firestorm from immigration opponents, the
Bush administration yesterday played down reports it is considering an
amnesty for as many as 3 million undocumented Mexican immigrants.
The primary focus of a government task force studying border safety issues is
a guest worker program -- not amnesty -- said White House spokesman Ari
He said any amnesty policy was part of a larger "work in progress" and said
the White House had yet to see an initial report from the task force, expected
this week. President Bush has said he opposes a blanket amnesty like the one awarded by Congress to 2.7 million undocumented immigrants in 1986.
The task force, which is comprised of officials from the State and Justice
departments, has been meeting regularly with a similar Mexican task force
since Bush met with Mexican President Vicente Fox in February. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Attorney General John Ashcroft are expected to add
their opinions to the report, administration officials said.
The task force is said to be considering several legalization options, including
a program that would be phased in over several years. Advisers have told the
Bush administration that legal status for undocumented immigrants could
become more widely available through a variety of means, including wider
access to employment visas and expediting backlogged family visas.
Fox, who has urged Bush to consider legalization steps, welcomed the talk of
amnesty. Speaking yesterday to the Economic Club of Chicago, Fox said he
is committed to "as many rights as possible for as many Mexican immigrants
as possible as soon as possible."
In recent weeks, Fox and Foreign Minister Jorge Casteņada also have
stepped up calls for "regularization" of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
Policy experts consider "regularization" to be a euphemism for amnesty.
When briefing reporters yesterday, Fleischer deflected questions about
amnesty and tried to focus on the guest worker program.
He said the program "would focus on such things as preventing adverse
effects on U.S. workers, ensuring legal rights and protections for these
temporary workers who come to this country and promoting a secure and
He said it also "would focus on whether or not there is anything that can be
done to regularize their immigration status and to provide them either some
type of temporary or some other type of status that would welcome them into
the United States."
U.S. farmers -- particularly those in California -- have been pushing the White
House and Congress to expand or create guest worker programs to allow the
growers easier access to foreign seasonal workers. Many Latino and immigrant rights groups oppose guest worker programs, citing worker abuses.
An immigration official privately said yesterday that any guest worker program carved out just for Mexicans -- as the task force is now considering -- would
anger Central American and Caribbean nations, especially Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. Those countries almost certainly would
call for similar programs for their workers, he said.
Faced with potentially enormous political and practical roadblocks, the Bush
administration has been moving tentatively on the immigration issue, although
the White House wants something in place when Bush and Fox meet here for
a state dinner in September.
In the meantime, immigration advocates are exulting in the recent talk of an
Even a preliminary discussion of amnesty is "a real step forward" for
immigration advocates, said Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum.
"We have to address Mexican workers who are already in this economy and
working hard," Sharry said through a spokesman. "Fox wants to protect his
countrymen from being exploited, and Bush understands that the status quo is
Whatever road to immigration reform Bush takes, he will have to juggle the
concerns of increasingly powerful Hispanic politicians, an alliance of
conservatives who don't want to reward "lawbreakers" with amnesty and
liberals worried about potential guest worker abuses.
"Is this achievable in Congress?" asked Demetrios G. Papademetriou, a
migration specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. "The president
will have to advocate, to use some of his political capital and work the classic
left-right coalition to make immigration changes possible."
Then there are other, more practical hurdles, experts say.
To carry out the immigration reform options "requires a mechanism in place,
but we already have an overwhelmed" Immigration and Naturalization
Service, said Steve Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies.
"Could (Bush) do this all at once? Have a guest worker program, a type of
amnesty, and then try to reorganize the INS?" Camarota asked. "There are
enormous backlogs as it is, how can you do it all at once? You do everything
The Associated Press contributed to this report.