Union Tribune

January 7, 2004

Bush seeks 6-year stay for illegal immigrants
President to ask for more green cards


WASHINGTON President Bush will ask Congress today to let millions of undocumented immigrants with jobs stay and work in the country legally for up to six years, senior administration officials said yesterday.

Instead of proposing permanent legal status for an estimated 8 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, Bush will call for increasing the number of green cards granted each year. Most of those green cards which allow foreigners to become permanent U.S. residents would not be issued to workers already in the United States, officials said.

While some of those allowed to stay might someday acquire a green card, their participation in the guest-worker program would not enhance their eligibility for permanent residency or citizenship, officials said.

More than 1 million green cards were given out in 2002, and millions of people eligible for green cards remain on waiting lists because of limits on the number handed out each year.

The administration hasn't decided how many extra visas it will seek. Nor has it decided whether they will be employment-based visas or granted to those already eligible to immigrate based on family ties but languishing on backlogs, said the administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The guest-worker program could benefit up to 8 million undocumented residents, they said. A program of that scope would be unprecedented, dwarfing the nation's bracero program, which admitted an estimated 2 million guest workers between 1942 and 1964.

Also unprecedented is the fact that the workers could be employed in any industry, instead of simply farm work, as in the past. The program also would abandon requirements that the Labor Department certify that legal workers aren't available before foreign workers could have the jobs. All that would be necessary is for an employer to say he was employing the worker.

Advocates for increasing and decreasing immigration both expressed unhappiness with the proposal and predicted opposition in Congress.

"This is extremely disappointing, especially given where the administration was in 2001," said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza. She was referring to the much-ballyhooed immigration talks that Bush launched with Mexican President Vicente Fox, who urged broad legalization for immigrants.

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restrictions, said the president is offering amnesty disguised as a guest-worker program.

"They are going out of their way to say it's not an amnesty, but it's just a two-step amnesty," Krikorian said. "The Democrats won't take to it because they want a quicker amnesty, and Republicans are going to be hostile because it's an amnesty after all. I'm not sure what the constituency is for this thing, but the National Restaurant Association probably loves it."

Fox, who praises illegal immigrants as heroes for the risks they take to support families back home, is scheduled to meet Monday with Bush in Mexico during an economic summit.

Administration sources said the plan was crafted at the direction of Karl Rove, the White House political director whose principal job is to get Bush re-elected. It was Rove who pulled the plug on the 2001 talks, after Fox's amnesty proposals drew opposition from conservatives.

"This has been carefully calibrated to not alienate the president's base" which has condemned amnesty proposals as efforts to reward illegality "but to see how far they can go toward the Hispanic voters," the source said.

"This doesn't take them anywhere toward the Hispanic voters," Munoz said. Noting that those granted temporary worker status could be deported after they had used up the two three-year visas the program would make available to them, she asked, "What's the incentive for them to sign up?"

While Mexico is the source of about half the illegal immigrants and the recipient of the largest share of annual immigrant visas, Bush's plan would be open to immigrants from all countries. Those who applied from within the United States would be required to pay a registration fee.

Officials said the program would allow workers who are approved to travel freely between their home countries and the United States.

One administration official said Bush is pursuing a number of fundamental principles. They are to "promote compassion"; to protect the homeland and control borders by registering illegal immigrants already in the country; to strengthen the national economy by matching workers with employers when Americans are not available; to provide incentives for temporary workers to return home, including access to Social Security payments and a special savings plan; and to provide labor-rights protections for illegal workers who "live in the shadows and are fearful of deportation."

The officials said Bush's plan by providing legal avenues for work as well as penalties for workers and employers who do not participate would help cut down on illegal immigration.

But many immigration experts have long maintained that guest-worker programs generally increase both legal and illegal immigration.

"Guest-worker programs have failed wherever and whenever they have been tried," said Phil Martin, a labor economist at the University of California Davis. "Indicators of failure are that some migrants settled, illegal migrants accompanied legal migrants, and the programs lasted longer and got larger than anticipated."