- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

President Bush’s immigration plan is designed as a “blueprint” for congressional activity on reform and is a “moderate, common sense” approach to the issue, Raul Damas, director of Hispanic grass-roots development at the Republican National Committee, said yesterday.

“And the manner in which addresses this is almost as important as what is done about it,” said Mr. Damas during a forum at the Urban Institute yesterday.

Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton, contended the Bush plan was simply a political ploy to garner a larger share of the country’s growing Hispanic vote.

“President Bush, with the absence of details on the plan, got the best of both worlds,” said Miss Echaveste. “He had the bully pulpit and the orchestrated photo op with Fox.”

She added that Mr. Bush “hopes that Latino voters will not look at the details.”

President Bush’s plan would grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants working in the U.S.

Many conservative critics have echoed Miss Echaveste’s sentiment of political opportunism as well, while advocating stricter enforcement of the nation’s borders.

Under the Bush proposal, undocumented workers in the United States and foreigners who could prove they had a job awaiting here would qualify for temporary legal status for up to six years. There were few other specifics given by the White House.

Mr. Damas said yesterday that just putting the idea on the table has initiated dialogue on the issue.

“The nation is having a discussion it wasn’t having before the president’s comments,” Mr. Damas said.

Mr. Bush’s concept was also analyzed by panelist Doris Meissner, another Clinton appointee, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000.

The idea of giving worker status to immigrants already in the country would need a very flexible design, she said, in order to take into account the workers’ families and often-changing job status.

Under the loose formulation of the idea that has been floated by the administration, immigrant workers would be informally sponsored by their employers. Some fear that would give companies too much of an upper hand regarding an employee’s resident status.

Miss Meissner said there has to be a way for the immigrants to be able to remain in the country. The Bush plan, she noted, was “interesting, but to use a one-size-fits-all approach is not likely to achieve its objectives.”

Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, responded to Mr. Bush’s plan by introducing “The Immigration Reform Act of 2004,” which would allow all illegal immigrants working in the country to gain legal status and after five years apply for residency.

“There are currently close to 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States, 55 to 60 percent of whom are from Mexico,” said panelist Jeffrey Passel, a demographer at the Urban Institute.

Of the remaining 40 percent to 45 percent, he said, two-thirds are of Hispanic origin. Those illegals have an estimated three million children who were born in the United States and are, therefore, automatically granted citizenship.

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