- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Sens. Tom Daschle and Chuck Hagel yesterday introduced a bipartisan immigration-reform bill that focuses on strengthening national security and the economy while uniting migrant families, but will not offer temporary status or amnesty.

The bill will look to increase the number of work visas issued, as President Bush has called for, but only for those migrant workers already operating within the law. It also gives legal working immigrants an opportunity to bring their immediate family — spouse and children — who might be staying in their home country, to the United States.

“We have spent hundreds of hours with labor, advocacy … religious groups, on this bill. … It is not finished, but it is important that we draft it now and begin this debate,” Mr. Hagel said.

Mr. Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader from South Dakota, and Mr. Hagel, Nebraska Republican, said their bill is the only one introduced so far that takes a comprehensive look at immigration.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a nonpartisan, research and policy analysis think tank on the impacts of immigration, isn’t keen on any of the ideas, but said the Daschle-Hagel bill is almost exactly like Mr. Bush’s proposal, with two key differences.

“[I]n the Daschle-Hagel plan, the aliens get green cards right away and don’t linger in this temporary status, they are permanent upfront,” CIS executive director Mark Krikorian said. “And the plan talks about labor-market protections to insure foreign workers are paid the same as American workers.”

The bottom line, he said, is that both plans are amnesty foreign-worker programs. He said the current visa program that allows people to renew their work visas indefinitely until they get a green card is equally as effective as any of the new plans.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, introduced an immigration bill last year that mirrors the proposal announced by Mr. Bush on Jan. 7. The president’s proposal has received mixed reviews from both parties, especially from immigration groups both for and against and from amnesty groups.

Mr. Krikorian said he is not a big fan of Mr. Cornyn’s bill, but said it is the only bill that enforces the temporary status and forces immigrants to go home before they can apply for a green card, “which Democrats will not go for. They want amnesty.”

But Hagel spokesman Mike Buttry said there is a timetable to the bill.

“There are two kinds of visas, and H2B which last for nine months and can be extended four times, and the H2C, which lasts for two years and can be extended only once,” Mr. Buttry said.

And the Hagel-Daschle bill gives no quarter to illegal immigrants, who are not working or not paying taxes. They would not qualify for the immediate green card, and “they would be sent home,” Mr. Buttry added.

It also requires that all immigrants carry counterfeit-resistant authorization cards issued by the Homeland Security Department. The bill will increase department funding to identify undocumented immigrants and track those foreign workers legally entering the country for jobs.

The bill is more of a discussion starter for the Senate than a piece of passable legislation, Mr. Hagel said.

“We don’t have a perfect bill. Our attitude going in is to have a framework, have hearings, and with amendments and discussion, come up with something we all can agree on,” he said.

Mr. Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary committee’s subcommittee on immigration, introduced his bill on July 10 to renew the debate on reform. A key aspect of Mr. Cornyn’s bill would mandate undocumented workers already in the United States to apply for guest-worker status in conjunction with their employers within the first year of the program’s enactment.

But in contrast to the Bush administration’s proposal, workers applying from their home countries could do so for up to a year at a time for a maximum of three years before returning to their home countries. The Bush policy also would allow near unlimited renewals of the guest-worker status.

“I certainly hope we have hearings this year, and that we hear from the American people, because with 8 [million] to 10 million people in this country illegally, to do nothing is not an option,” Mr. Cornyn said.

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