- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

President Bush said yesterday that his goal is eventually to expel “every single” illegal alien from the United States as his administration pressed Congress to pass a guest-worker program.

Although conceding that the administration cannot immediately deport the estimated 11 million illegal aliens who are here, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told Congress that a temporary-worker program would give aliens an incentive to come out of hiding and let them work legally for six years before being forced to return home.

As Mr. Bush signed the homeland security spending bill yesterday, he said Congress should couple a guest-worker plan with increased border security.

“We’re going to get control of our borders,” he said during the signing ceremony in the East Room. “Our goal is clear — to return every single illegal entrant, with no exceptions.”

It was a far cry from the president’s usual rhetoric on illegal immigration, which focuses on the need to reunite families and provide labor for companies. Since taking office, Mr. Bush has called for relaxing rules so that illegals from Mexico can remain in the U.S. to take unpopular jobs.

The sudden hard line comes as Mr. Bush is trying to assuage his conservative political base, much of which is upset over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mr. Bush said the government has to stop illegal entrance in the first place, needs to improve its ability to catch illegal aliens who have crossed, and must ensure that those who are caught are deported.

But even as he talked tough on illegal immigration, he continued to lobby for a program that would allow foreign workers to legally cross the border to fill U.S. jobs temporarily.

“If an employer has a job that no American is willing to take, we need to find a way to fill that demand by matching willing employers with willing workers from foreign countries on a temporary and legal basis,” he said.

As Mr. Bush was pushing his proposal, though, his nominee to lead the Citizenship and Immigration Services was telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that the agency, which probably would run such a guest-worker program, cannot do it right now.

“The systems that exist right now wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Emilio Gonzalez said, though he added that, if approved, he would take immediate steps to get the agency ready.

The Cabinet secretaries told the panel that deporting 11 million illegal aliens is impractical and too costly.

“I think it would be hugely, hugely difficult to do this,” Mr. Chertoff said. “A lot of these people would not want to be deported. We would have to find them. That would be an enormous expenditure of effort and resources.”

Instead, they said aliens will identify themselves by taking part in the temporary-worker program and that the government then would know who they are and where to find them when their work period ends.

“We would ask them to sign up with a temporary-worker program for three years. They can extend for another three years for a total of six years and at which point we would ask that they return to their home country,” Mrs. Chao said. “They would not have a legal pathway to citizenship.”

The administration previously had said only that the program would be renewable, and hadn’t set a limit on the number of times.

The secretaries said putting in a legal channel for workers would reduce the population of illegal aliens, which would make workplace enforcement and deportation more manageable.

The stance puts the administration on record opposing the bill from Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, that would put illegal aliens on a multistep path to citizenship if they work for a set period and pay a fine.

But the administration’s position is similar to a bill sponsored by Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona that would create a temporary-worker program and give current illegal aliens five years to leave.

The day marked several reversals for the administration.

For example, Mr. Chertoff said the department can handle training the 1,500 new Border Patrol agents who will be hired in fiscal 2006. Just months ago, when Mr. Bush submitted a request for 210 agents, administration officials said they couldn’t train many more and that the 210 new agents would suffice to gain control over the border.

Also, Mr. Bush acknowledged that the country does not have the resources to detain and deport many of the illegal aliens. Those from countries other than Mexico are released into the U.S. while the deportation case is being decided, but most do not show up for deportation when their case is concluded.

“We capture many more illegal immigrants than we can send home, especially non-Mexicans,” he said. “And one of the biggest reasons for that is we don’t have enough bed space in our detention facilities.”

Mr. Chertoff also promised to streamline the number of days it takes to deport illegal aliens, though he said the administration “will probably have to lean pretty heavily on some foreign governments” to force them to accept illegal aliens it wants to deport.

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