- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

The administration rolled out its top immigration officials and several senior Republican senators yesterday to endorse publicly a guest-worker program offered by President Bush that could give legal status to the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States.

One by one, the officials and the senators told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship that the Bush plan, outlined Jan. 7, would fix a broken immigration system, allow U.S. businesses to hire needed workers, bring illegal aliens into the mainstream economy and assure greater homeland security.

The president’s proposal, which some Republicans say rewards lawbreakers and could lead to an election-year backlash from Republican voters against Mr. Bush, even drew support from Democrats.

“In announcing his proposal, President Bush recognized America’s proud tradition of welcoming immigrants,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat. “He acknowledged the essential role that immigrants have had and continue to have in our nation’s life.”

Average Americans disagree more with government officials and other “elites” on immigration than any other foreign-policy issue. A January Zogby poll shows 74 percent of respondents oppose aiding undocumented workers.

During a packed subcommittee hearing in the newly reopened Dirksen building, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security for the Department of Homeland Security, said the program was “a bold step, aimed at reforming our immigration laws, matching willing workers with willing employers and securing our homeland.

“Passing a temporary-worker program that works to benefit the American economy while bringing integrity to our immigration system is a reasonable goal for all of us,” Mr. Hutchinson said.

Labor Department Deputy Secretary Steven Law said the Bush proposal would “bring undocumented workers out of the shadows into the mainstream economy, allowing them to more easily establish credit, invest and purchase items like appliances, homes and automobiles.”

Critics, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports limited immigration, say passage of the Bush proposal will reward lawbreakers by allowing foreign nationals who illegally entered the United States to remain without penalty. They add that it will encourage future illegal immigration.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said America’s borders would not be secure “until we supply willing employers with willing workers,” while Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said the “only way” to solve the nation’s immigration problem was to “create a dynamic program that recognizes the need for foreign nationals to come to this country to work.”

Last month, Mr. Bush proposed, as a set of principles and not specific legislation, a broad temporary-worker program that would allow millions of illegal aliens now in the United States to remain during renewable three-year periods without penalty and, eventually, to apply for permanent legal residence.

Illegal aliens who could prove they were employed in this country on Jan. 7, the day the program was announced, could stay, even returning to their home countries and then coming back to their U.S. jobs.

The White House painstakingly has denied that the program offers “blanket amnesty,” even though the aliens who gained entry to the United States illegally to obtain jobs — often with phony identification documents — will face no penalties.

Subcommittee chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, called for a “total overhaul” of the nation’s immigration policies, saying the country needs to meet national-security requirements, economic interests and a manageable policy for how many foreign nationals are admitted each year.

“Many U.S. employers of aliens have difficulties in finding Americans to fill jobs performed by illegal aliens,” he said. “Employers also have difficulty in determining who is legal and who is illegal due to the lack of verifiable documentation in the hiring process.

“This wink-and-nod cycle contributing to hiring illegal aliens must stop, while still providing a method for U.S. employers to gain access to the workers they need,” he said.

Building on the “framework” outlined by the Bush guest-worker program, Mr. Chambliss said Congress needs to begin a legislative process toward immigration reform that would include:

• Sufficient resources to guarantee increased border security and interior enforcement, along with added penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens and for foreign nationals illegally in the country who do not work.

• A guest-worker program for foreign nations in the United States who have temporary jobs, as long as they do not displace U.S. workers.

• The issuance under a guest-worker program of work visas to foreign nations and not green cards, which would be unfair to those seeking legal entry to the United States.

• A guarantee that no one in the United States illegally has the same privileges associated with those here legally.

Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of the Homeland Security Department, told the subcommittee that Mr. Bush had “courageously confronted a broken system, one that has been ignored for too long,” adding that the president’s guest-worker proposal would “facilitate economic growth, enhance national security and promote compassion.”

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