Immigration reform unveiled by Bush
But one local opponent called the president’s proposal a blatant example of political cynicism and arrogant elitism.
Bush, saying the current laws are not working, called Wednesday for a major overhaul of America’s immigration system that would grant legal status to millions of undocumented workers in the United States.
“”Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling,” Bush said in a White House speech to members of Congress, his Cabinet and immigrant advocacy groups.
Bush’s election-year proposal is designed to win support among Hispanic voters while helping meet the needs of American employers, many following the issue said Wednesday.
The plan would create a temporary program for undocumented workers now in the United States and those in other countries who have been offered employment here.
“In the valley, this will stabilize the economic conditions and workforce by eliminating a lot of the seasonal aspects of the programs, which from an employer’s perspective will simplify procedures,” said Don Lemon, an Eagle-Vail immigration attorney.
But Mike McGarry, spokesman for the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, said Bush’s proposals don’t reflect the beliefs of most Americans.
“It is violative of the wants and desires of the vast majority of Americans and it is a frontal assault on the rule of law,” said McGarry, who lives in Aspen.
Bush said his proposals, if enacted by Congress, would provide a more compassionate system for immigrants who now live in the shadows of American society.
“”Decent, hard-working people will now be protected by labor laws with the right to change jobs, earn fair wages and enjoy the same working conditions that the law requires for American workers,” Bush said.
Unlike current temporary visa programs that involve mostly technical experts, the new “”temporary worker program” would not apply only to a certain sector of the economy or industry.
“The undocumented in our valley will be given the opportunity to achieve a status under a system that had been unworkable until now,” Lemon said. “It will bring them from under the shadow and they will be paying taxes, which will generate local social services and eliminate the dichotomy between the grey economy and those people following the law.”
McGarry, however, said the results of the policies will be overwhelming.
“It will mean a tidal wave of potentially tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of Third-World people from all over the world flooding into the U.S., rocketing the U.S. population to untenable numbers of 500, 600, 700 million, with standing room only,” McGarry said.
Sensitive to the opposition of many conservatives in Bush’s own party to any reward for those who broke the law when they entered the United States, the administration said it is not proposing blanket amnesty for illegals and the program is not linked to the green card process.
“”I oppose amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship,” Bush said. “”Granting amnesty encourages violation of our laws and perpetuates illegal immigration.
“America is a welcoming country,” the president said, “but citizenship must not be the automatic reward for violating the laws of America.”
Much of the detail of the president’s proposal was to be worked out by Congress in future negotiations with the White House.
For instance, Bush wants to increase the nation’s yearly allotment of green cards that allow for permanent U.S. residency, but he won’t say by how much.
Around one million green cards a year are issued now, though just 140,000 of them are employment-based.
He also wants the workers’ first three-year term in the program to be renewable but won’t say for how long; he won’t set the amount workers should pay to apply for the program; and he won’t specify how to enforce the requirement that no American worker wants the job the foreign worker is taking, said administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Perhaps the biggest unresolved question is how the plan will allow illegal immigrants access, which they do not now have, to the process of applying for green cards or permanent U.S. residency.
But the White House did say that workers accepted into the temporary program could immediately, with an employer’s sponsorship, begin applying for a green card. Although these workers would get no advantage over other applicants, an illegal immigrant who attempted to apply now would simply be deported.
Chris Pooley, a lawyer who shares an immigration law office with attorney Sienna La Rene, said Wednesday he is optimistic Bush’s proposals will become law in the next six months.
“I think there’s going to be strong bipartisan support,” he said. “It’s an election year and these types of bills are usually approved in an election year.
“We’re very optimistic something will happen in the next six months,” he said.
Bush also said his proposals would strengthen America’s borders and make the nation more secure by keeping better track of those who enter the United States. He said the policies would allow law enforcement officials to focus more on real threats.
“”America is acting on a basic belief: Our borders should be open to legal travel and honest trade; our borders should be shut and barred tight to criminals, to drug traders, drug traffickers and to criminals and to terrorists,” Bush said.
“”As a nation that values immigrants and depends on immigrants, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud. Yet today we do not. Instead we see many employers turning to the illegal labor market. We see millions of hard-working men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive undocumented economy,” Bush continued.
“”Illegal entry across our borders makes more difficult the urgent task of securing the homeland,” he said.
Bush’s proposals break a virtual silence on immigration since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised fears about border security. By dangling the prospect of legal status to some eight million illegal immigrants now estimated to be in this country, about half of them Mexican, Bush was endorsing a top priority of the business community while making his most aggressive move yet to court Hispanic voters – the nation’s fastest-growing electoral bloc.
He won just over one-third of that constituency in 2000 but wants to expand his support in the community to better his chances for re-election in November.
Local attorney Pooley said Bush’s plan will give employers and workers more peace of mind.
“This proposal will benefit the Vail Valley community because people who are doing hard work will not fear deportation, employers will not have to worry that the U.S. government will deport their employees and employers will be better able to fill jobs,” Pooley said.
“In the valley,” he added, “there are all kind of job openings and a lot of employers can’t find Americans to do them nor they can hire illegal workers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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