- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

PHOENIX — Sen. John Kerry yesterday promised an amnesty for most illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years.

“It is time to fulfill the promise of America, so that those who work hard and take responsibility and build a better life for them and their families, and live by the rules, and pay their taxes and raise their families have a right to share in America and its citizenship in the fullest,” the Democratic candidate for president said.

Mr. Kerry, speaking to the National Council of La Raza’s national conference, said that within 100 days of taking office, he would propose a four-part plan that would give a citizenship path to illegal immigrants who have paid taxes while living here and who pass a security screening.

Mr. Kerry joins a roiling debate over how to deal with the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal immigrants.

Hispanic advocacy groups have called for an extensive amnesty for most of those immigrants, and Mr. Kerry’s proposal yesterday drew the strongest applause of his 50-minute speech.

Mr. Kerry’s plan goes much further than President Bush, who has proposed a guest-worker program that would allow current illegal immigrants and foreigners living overseas to apply for a renewable three-year temporary visa. Mr. Bush also proposed increasing the number of green cards issued each year, though he didn’t specify by how much.

But Mr. Kerry called Mr. Bush’s plan “exploitative,” dismissing it as “work in America for low cost and never have a chance to be a citizen.”

Mr. Bush’s plan was labeled an amnesty by those who want stricter controls on immigration, and Mr. Kerry’s plan is bound to draw the same charge.

Several immigration plans are already pending in Congress, including one by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, that would create a temporary-worker program but require participants to return home at the end of their period.

Mr. Cornyn yesterday said he was happy Mr. Kerry joined the debate, but said his plan goes in the wrong direction.

“It is an agenda, I’m afraid, that does little beyond encouraging further illegal immigration, and certainly does nothing to re-establish respect for the law or address the underlying economic issues,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Mr. Kerry’s proposal resembles other pending bills — one by his Massachusetts Democrat colleague Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and two key House Democrats; and the other by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

The Daschle-Hagel plan requires that the immigrants have worked here for four years, including at least a year after the bill becomes law, and that they pay a $1,000 fine.

Mr. Kerry did not say whether his plan also included any fines, but said he would have the immigrants take civics and English classes.

He said he believes in enforceable borders, and promised to work with Mexico “to reduce the incentive for people to come here illegally, and to increase the ability of people to come here legally.”

Mr. Kerry made a brief mention of increasing border security, and said he wants to fix terrorist watch lists.

He also pledged to sign two bills now pending in Congress: the Dream Act, which would legalize many illegal immigrant college students, and an agriculture guest-worker program.

Earlier yesterday in Chicago, Mr. Kerry proposed a $4,000-per-year tax credit to help students pay for college, and a $10 billion fund for states to invest in public colleges and universities, as long as states commit to keeping tuition increases at the rate of inflation.

Speaking to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition conference in Chicago earlier yesterday, Mr. Kerry painted a bleak picture of education in America, arguing that schools aren’t graduating enough math and science students.

He said schools seem to kill women’s and minorities’ interests in those fields, and he promised to lead a campaign to change that.

“As president, I will give all Americans, especially women and minorities, the same encouragement, and we have to give it early on,” he said, adding that he will support all-girls schools, some of which have graduated many students interested in math and science.

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