The Bush administration came under fire for withdrawing from a hearing yesterday during which two Cabinet secretaries had been scheduled to testify on immigration and guest-worker proposals.
President Bush has said he supports a guest-worker program and has demanded that Congress send him a bill, but canceled appearances by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was examining the two competing guest-worker bills.
The hearing went on without them, but not without three pointed mentions of the administration’s absence by committee Chairman Arlen Specter.
“We decided to go ahead with the hearing. We’re going to do our work. And when the administration wants to chime in, we’ll be ready to listen,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. He said the administration canceled late Friday.
Spokesmen for Mr. Chertoff did not return calls, and a spokeswoman for the Labor Department would not say why Mrs. Chao canceled, but indicated that the administration will weigh in at some point.
“Administration officials are going to be testifying at a later date,” the spokeswoman said.
Six weeks ago, House and Senate Republicans said they expected Mr. Bush to clarify his immigration stance and embrace stronger enforcement. But no such clarification has been forthcoming. Some Republican aides said the administration’s cancellation shows that Mr. Bush has not made a decision about how to proceed on the issue.
A liberal advocacy group has released a report that says it would cost at least $40 billion a year for the next five years to run a program to deport illegal aliens. That exceeds the yearly appropriation for the entire Department of Homeland Security.
The Center for American Progress calculated the costs of apprehension, legal proceedings and transportation for removing 10 million illegal aliens plus nearly 500,000 more per year who sneak across the border at $206 billion during the five-year period.
“The costs of a massive deportation policy would not only be substantial, but in many ways, financially reckless,” wrote Rajeev Goyle and David A. Jaeger Jr., the report’s authors.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who has introduced an immigration proposal with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told the Judiciary Committee that the study shows why those in the country illegally cannot be forced to go home.
“We’ve tried more enforcement, and it didn’t work. We don’t have the resources to deport those who are here,” he said.
The McCain-Kennedy bill would put those in the country illegally on a multistep, 11-year path to citizenship and would create an immigration program for 400,000 foreign workers a year who also would be on a path to citizenship.
The other chief proposal — from Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican — would ask illegal aliens to leave within five years, when stricter enforcement and secure Social Security cards for Americans and legal residents would make it more difficult for illegals to hold jobs.
The bill also would create a guest-worker program that eventually would require those workers to return to their home countries.