- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

The White House is reviewing an immigration reform bill introduced this week that would meet its goal of granting legal status to millions of illegal aliens.

A bill introduced Wednesday by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, would allow all illegal immigrants now working in the country to gain temporary legal documentation and after five years apply for legal residency — a green card.

Mr. Bush has proposed a plan that would also grant “temporary worker cards” to all illegals now working in the country, estimated to be between 8 million and 14 million people, about half from Mexico. Those cards would go only to workers who take jobs “Americans aren’t doing,” and would last three years with at least one chance for renewal.

“I think this is a realistic approach to make sure the employer-employee relationship is honest in this country,” Mr. Bush said yesterday in his address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Unlike the Hagel-Daschle bill, however, the president’s plan would not allow immigrants to use the temporary worker program as a path to citizenship or a green card.

“We are reviewing the various legislative proposals,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday, but added that “the president is working from his plan.”

“We look forward to working with Congress and moving forward on this important priority as soon as possible,” Mr. McClellan said.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the president “passionately believes” in his immigration reform plan, but will not present Congress with a piece of legislation to consider.

“We rarely put forward specific legislation,” she said.

The Hagel-Daschle bill meets all of the president’s broad outlines, and Mr. Hagel applauded Mr. Bush for “the leadership he has shown for putting this issue back on the agenda.”

“Congress must now meet that leadership by having a courageous debate on the tough issues of immigration reform,” Mr. Hagel said in a statement.

A senior Republican senate aide, however, was pessimistic about the passage of the bill this year.

“Practically speaking, in a presidential election year, it will be tough,” the aide said, noting that the more conservative House members present the biggest obstacle. “It’s hard to handicap.”

The aide said the crafters of the Hagel-Daschle bill told the White House about their legislation several days before Mr. Bush announced his similar proposal earlier this month.

“They were working on it for six months before the president’s proposal,” the aide said. “They talked to the White House about it, so they knew it was coming.”

Like Mr. Bush’s proposal, the Hagel-Daschle bill would identify and track immigrants living and working in the United States by issuing identity cards through the Homeland Security Department. It would also increase the number of work visas issued each year, up from the current level of 66,000 annually to 350,000 annually.

Senior Bush administration officials, speaking on background, also said the president would like to increase the visa program, but would not say by how much.

The program advocated by Mr. Hagel and Mr. Daschle would sunset in five years to allow Congress to “re-evaluate the situation,” the Republican Senate aide said.

The bill goes beyond what Mr. Bush has outlined by making it easier for immigrant workers to bring their families to the United States and to gain permanent legal status.

If an immigrant passed national security background checks, resided in the United States for five years — and held a job for at least four years — paid all federal taxes, paid a $1,000 fine and demonstrated knowledge of English and U.S. civics, he could apply for citizenship under the Hagel-Daschle legislation.

Recent polls show that strong majorities of people oppose Mr. Bush’s plan, but the White House insists that opinion will come around when he explains it to the public.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that giving illegal immigrants a way to “come out of the shadows” will improve national security because it would allow border patrol agents to concentrate on more dangerous criminals, not everyone who crossed illegally.

“We’ve got a lot of border patrol agents trying to chase the good, hardworking people down,” Mr. Bush said. “If we make the system work right, if we make it legitimate, then our border patrol will be able to chase down true threats to our national security.”

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