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Immigration law changes on tap

by Veronica Whitney & Deb Riechmann AP writer
From left, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Dario Reyes and Juan Bejerano show their city issued cards that identify them as migrants at the Casa del Migrante, an immigrant shelter, on Monday, Jan 5, 2004 in Tijuana, Mexico. The shelter serves migrants who have either been deported from the United States or who have just arrived in Tijuana. The cards are supposed to help them if they are picked up by police, who could think they are vagrants. On Wednesday, Bush will propose immigration law changes to allow workers from Mexico to enter the United States if they have jobs waiting for them. The announcement comes five days before Bush is scheduled to meet with Fox during the Summit of the Americas Jan. 12-13 in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. (AP Photo/David Maung)
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Those against the proposed changes, however, said the measure will increase immigration, which will lead to undesired population growth.President Bush today is expected to announce his administration’s immigration reform proposal. Bush is proposing to let foreign workers come to the U.S. if they have jobs waiting for them – a move designed to help repair relations with Mexico and capture Latino voters in this year’s election.”The reform would not only affect foreign workers, but the entire valley,” said Sienna La Rene, an Edwards immigration attorney. “The biggest benefit to this valley is to eliminate that feeling of inequality. You have the U.S. citizens and the legal on one side and the illegals on the other.”La Rene estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of the foreign workers in the valley are undocumented. “The proposed changes would streamline the process for employers to get a working visa. Currently, it takes about five months to get a working visa.”Juggling jobsVirtually silent on the immigration issue for two years, Bush was working Tuesday on remarks he will make about immigration this afternoon at the White House to about 150 people active in immigration issues. White House press secretary Scott McClellan wouldn’t say Tuesday whether the president would announce a detailed proposal, or general outlines of a proposal to match willing foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, with receptive U.S. employers.There are an estimated 10 million undocumented workers in the U.S., as many as half of them from Mexico.””It’s the issue of what he’s talked about before – about matching willing workers with willing employers where there are jobs that Americans are not interested in filling,” McClellan said. “”That’s an economic need that exists. It’s important that we have a fair immigration policy and an immigration policy that addresses those economic needs.”For Chris Pooley, another local immigration attorney, the new law would help the communities where immigrants live.”Undocumented people might not report crimes, they’re driving with no insurance, they don’t have healthcare,” Pooley said. “The U.S. as a whole will have more educated people. Also, it would contribute with tax collections. Currently, a lot of illegals get paid under the table.”The proposal would also benefit families.”One of the best things about the program is family reunification,” Pooley said. “There are a lot of families that are separated by the immigration laws.”But Michael McGerry, spokesman for The Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, said the new law is “an amnesty for people who already are in the country illegally.””Our number one consideration is that because of immigration our population is growing,” he said. “If this proposal goes through, it means that not only the workers but their extended family will be here, and that’s another 30 to 70 million people in the country.”Pooley, however, said the new program would give U.S. workers the opportunity to take available jobs first.”The goal of U.S. immigration is to address both reunification of families and the protection of U.S. workers,” Pooley said.But McGerry, a maintenance worker in Aspen, said there’s a myth about U.S. citizens not wanting to do some jobs.”I’m a maintenance worker in Aspen and there are a lot of Americans willing to do this job,” he said.Political falloutAn official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has long supported legal status for certain illegal workers, said he definitely expects “”a path of some sort to legal status” to be included in Bush’s remarks.””We have long supported an expanded guest worker program and targeted earned adjustment for undocumented workers,” said Randel Johnson, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president.Randel defined “”earned adjustment” as a program in which “”a person comes forward and shows they’ve worked here three, four, five years. They can show that and they go into a trial period of three more years where they are legal, but have to go through a legal assessment that shows they can hold down jobs.” If that’s achieved they would become eligible for permanent residence, he said.Mexican officials have argued that the administration used post-Sept. 11 security concerns as an excuse to better protect, rather than allow freer movement over the U.S.-Mexican border. Tense relations were further aggravated by Mexico’s decision not to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and when Bush refused to stop the execution of a Mexican national in Texas.””We have discussed for a long time with Mexico the need for a more humane, safe, orderly and legal immigration policy,” McClellan said. “”Then, of course, Sept. 11 occurred. We’ve taken a number of significant steps since then to strengthen our border security. At the same time, as we are strengthening our border security, it’s important to make America a welcoming society, a society that welcomes those who come here to meet an economic need.”Immigration advocates and some business groups also want Bush to address the estimated 8 million to 10 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S., said Katherine Culliton, immigration rights attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.Culliton said her group and many others want Bush to provide a way for currently illegal immigrant workers to become eligible for legal permanent residence after a certain period of work.Details of Bush’s proposal have been sketchy, yet immigration policy groups already are suspicious that it is an election-year ploy to curry favor with Hispanics, an important voting bloc for Bush, especially in Florida and in border states such as California, which are flush with electoral votes.””It looks very much like a political effort and what they do with these “principles’ is going to determine whether this is really a policy initiative or not,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza. “”The Latino community knows the difference between political posturing and a real policy debate.”The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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