- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

President Bush yesterday ruled out granting “blanket amnesty” to as many as 12 million immigrants illegally in the United States, but said he supports a policy that benefits American business owners and immigrant job seekers.

“We need to have an immigration policy that helps match any willing employer with any willing employee,” Mr. Bush said in a news conference yesterday.

“It makes sense that that policy go forward. And we’re in the process of working that through now so I can make a recommendation to the Congress,” said Mr. Bush about the politically dicey issue — made more urgent by his planned attendance at the Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, next month.

But the president reiterated a stance he has enunciated often: “This administration is firmly against blanket amnesty.”

The president did not spell out his preferred policy. A handful of options are floating around Capitol Hill, including one co-sponsored by several Republicans who propose giving legal residency to illegal immigrants through work.

Senior White House officials have expressed support for such a temporary-worker program that would let some workers become legal immigrants, but so far the administration has not backed any single piece of legislation.

Yesterday, a White House official said Mr. Bush’s comments represent no change from previous administration policy.

The president’s comments come a week after Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge expressed support for giving legal status to immigrants. In Miami, Mr. Ridge said: “The bottom line is, as a country we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it.”

Before the September 11 attacks, the administration had begun talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox about ways to legalize more than 3 million undocumented Mexicans living in the United States. The dialogue ended after the attacks.

High-level representatives of each government reopened talks last month with a meeting in Washington, but relations between Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox have been chilly for some time.

While the two leaders met briefly in Bangkok at an international economic summit in October, lending an air of optimism to the new talks, relations soured again yesterday as Mexico accused the United States of violating international law over its treatment of 52 Mexican nationals on death row.

In a court filing, Mexico asked the World Court in The Hague to order the United States to retry the Mexicans, saying those arrested were not told of their right to consular help.

The last major legalization program in 1986, when more than 2 million illegal immigrants were granted blanket amnesty, was a failure. The move did not stem illegal immigration, but instead created an avenue for millions of new immigrants to legally enter the country to visit newly legal relatives. Many illegally overstayed their temporary visas.

With that lesson in mind, top Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation that would impose a $1,500 fine on illegal immigrants before they were granted legal residency in the United States. Those illegal entrants also would have to line up behind workers who entered the United States under a guest-worker program as they sought legal residency.

“If you do not deal with both pieces of it — those people who are here in an undocumented status, as well as those future want-to-be immigrants — all you do is create the next wave of immigrants who will come into the country illegally,” Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, one of three Republican authors of a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, said last week.

Another piece of legislation known as the DREAM Act would give legal and permanent status to tens of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants. The bill, whose name is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, was sponsored by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. It recently passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a full vote by the Senate.

In September, Democratic and Republican lawmakers jointly proposed legislation that would allow 500,000 undocumented farm workers to become legal U.S. residents. The bill is awaiting a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

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