- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, President Bush put aside his illegal alien guest-worker proposal to focus his energies on counterterrorism and homeland security. He brought the proposal back in January, but Congress killed it. Last Tuesday, the president indicated he would jump-start it yet again. In Mexico on Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell also vowed to press ahead. This was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now. The president should drop the effort.

We wonder why Mr. Bush would choose to spend his political capital on an idea that Congress has resisted fiercely in the past, and seems likely to resist once again. Rep. John Hostettler, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, told the Washington Times last week that things haven’t changed enough for the plan to succeed. Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert say they’re willing to work with the president to settle the immigration issue. But no one is saying Congress is favorably disposed towards the president’s plan.

It’s not hard to see why. It would be deeply unpopular with a majority of Americans throughout the country. It effectively amounts to a mass amnesty for illegal immigrants — one that rewards lawbreakers by telling them that U.S. immigration law isn’t to be taken seriously. To the president’s credit, in the past he has promised that his plan will be accompanied by better efforts to control U.S. borders and stricter enforcement of immigration laws on workers and employers. We applaud the intent but will reserve judgment until seeing how vigorous enforcement actually turns out to be.

Then there are the economic and security reasons to oppose the president’s plan. On security, precisely how it helps counterterrorism to permit the estimated 8 million to 14 million illegals already living here to stay is unclear. Most of these illegals come from Latin America, but many do not. It would be intolerable if this plan resulted in the granting of U.S. citizenship to undetected terrorists. The president’s amnesty plan could also undermine the economic well-being of many Americans. Mr. Hostettler says it “would continue a long-term downward spiral in the wages of low-skilled and no-skill workers” and would “do nothing but displace American citizens.”

We hope the president and his advisers will realize this and act to avoid a repeat of January’s acrimony over immigration policy. There is much for the president to accomplish working with a Republican Congress. It would be unfortunate to permit a flawed immigration proposal to undermine this.

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