NYTimes.com Article: Bush Would Give Illegal Workers Broad New Rights

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Tue Jan 6 21:19:06 PST 2004

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if reagan was teflon, bush is celophane.

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Bush Would Give Illegal Workers Broad New Rights

January 7, 2004


WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 - President Bush will propose a sweeping
overhaul of the nation's immigration laws on Wednesday that
could give legal status to millions of undocumented workers
in the United States, senior administration officials said
Tuesday night. 

Under Mr. Bush's proposal, which effectively amounts to an
amnesty program for illegal immigrants with jobs in the
United States, an undocumented worker could apply for
temporary worker status here for an unspecified number of
years, with all the employee benefits, like minimum wage
and due process, accorded to those legally employed. 

Workers who are approved would be permitted to travel
freely between the United States and their home countries,
the officials said, and would also be permitted to apply
for a green card granting permanent residency in the United

Administration officials said that Mr. Bush would also
propose increasing the number of green cards issued each
year, which is now about 140,000, but they did not provide
a specific number. The administration officials, who
briefed reporters in a conference call on Tuesday night,
said only that Mr. Bush would ask for a "reasonable

Mr. Bush's proposal, one administration official said,
would "match willing workers with willing employers" and
would "promote compassion" by fixing what one called "a
broken system." The officials declined to call it an
amnesty program. 

Under the proposal, workers in other countries could also
apply for guest worker status in the United States,
provided there was no American to take the job. 

But the president's plans are expected to face a tough
fight in Congress, where conservative Republicans have said
they consider programs like the one the president is
proposing nothing more than amnesty for people who have
broken the law. 

The president's proposals were designed to appeal to
Hispanic groups, a constituency that the White House is
focusing on as Mr. Bush seeks re-election this year. The
proposals are expected to be embraced by President Vicente
Fox of Mexico, who has been lobbying for them for the past
three years. 

Mr. Bush is to meet with Mr. Fox at an economic summit next
week in Monterrey, Mexico, where immigration will be a
significant part of the agenda and Mr. Bush's proposals are
likely to become a major focus. 

Mr. Bush's proposal is closely modeled on legislation
introduced last summer by Senator John McCain and
Representatives Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, all Republicans
from Arizona. The issue of illegal workers has been an
important one there. 

"We are ecstatic that they are addressing this," Mr. Flake
said in a telephone interview on Tuesday night. "We've
maintained all along that you have to deal with both sides
of the issue - those who want to come to the country, and
those who are here now. We're very happy to see a realistic
approach. We deal with it daily, and we have to have a
rational policy." 

Mr. Bush's proposal is in some ways more generous to
illegal workers than is Mr. Flake's bill. The legislation,
for example, requires that a guest worker wait three years
before applying for a green card. Under Mr. Bush's
proposal, a worker could apply for a green card right away.

Mr. Bush's proposals apply to all illegal immigrants in the
United States, which officials estimate at 8 million to 14
million people. About 60 percent are thought to be Mexican.
No one is certain how many undocumented workers there are
among all illegal immigrants, but Mr. Fox has said that
some 3.5 million of the workers are Mexican. 

Mr. Bush entered office with immigration reform at the top
of his foreign policy agenda, and in the late summer of
2001 various guest worker proposals were under discussion
by United States and Mexican officials. But the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks led to increased concerns about the
safety of America's borders and derailed the negotiations. 

Under Mr. Bush's proposals, an undocumented worker and an
employer would have to apply for the guest worker program
hand in hand, with the employer serving as the sponsor for
the worker. There would also be a fee to register for the
program, but officials would not say how much that would

The plan also includes incentives for workers to return to
their countries, like a promise of retirement benefits
there based on income earned in the United States. 

Critics of Mr. Bush's proposal noted that unless the White
House sought, and obtained, a large increase in the number
of green cards issued each year, many of the undocumented
workers who apply under the president's program could face
an extended wait for residency, 10 to 20 years, by some

Administration officials acknowledge that the wait for a
green card could take up to six years or longer, meaning
that some guest workers who apply for green cards but do
not receive them before their guest worker status expires
would face the prospect of being forced to leave the United
States. In that case, critics of the proposal said Tuesday
night, workers would be better off remaining illegal and
staying indefinitely in the United States, rather than
revealing themselves to immigration officials when they
sign up for a program that may, these critics assert, lead
to their deportation. 

"They're asking people to sign up for a program that is
more likely to ensure their departure than ensure their
permanent residency," said Cecilia Muñoz, a vice president
of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy

Administration officials declined to say how long people
could remain in the guest worker program. But Ms. Muñoz
said congressional officials briefed on the program told
her they were led to believe that it could be no longer
than six years. 

Groups opposed to increased immigration also criticized the
president's proposal. "It's an amnesty, no matter how much
they dance around the fact," said Mark Krikorian, executive
director of the Center on Immigration Studies, a group that
seeks to limit immigration. "It's legalizing illegal

Other critics say that the guest worker program could lead
to the exploitation of immigrant workers. "If you are
dependent on an employer filing a petition on your behalf,
that employer has a tremendous club over you," one person
briefed on the president's proposal said. 

But an administration official said that the plan would
protect the rights of undocumented workers, "who now live
in the shadows, and are fearful of coming out of the

A number of limited guest worker programs already exist in
the United States, but they are designed for skilled
technology workers, who typically come from India, China
and Eastern Europe. 

Mr. Bush will also argue, administration officials said,
that his plan will make the country safer by giving the
authorities a better idea of who is in the country and
crossing its borders. 



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