- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

President Bush yesterday said illegal aliens who take part in his guest-worker program would not be allowed to stay permanently.

“I do not believe that any guest-worker program ought to contain amnesty because I believe that, if you granted amnesty to people here working now, that would cause another 8 million people or so to come here,” he said in response to a question from the audience at a speech at Kansas State University.

Mr. Bush said illegal aliens could join the guest-worker program, but they would have to go home just like future temporary workers from overseas.

“The length of stay here will be dependent upon the actions of the Congress. It’s conceivable you could have a three-year period with a renewal period,” he said.

The immigration debate is heating up in Congress, with the House having passed an enforcement bill last month and the Senate expected to make immigration one of its first major issues this year.

Last week, the Republican National Committee voted overwhelmingly to back Mr. Bush’s call for a guest-worker program, with just one member voicing opposition.

Mr. Bush has steadfastly defended a guest-worker program, but what that means for illegal aliens appears to have changed over time.

In announcing his plan in January 2004, he said, “Some temporary workers will make the decision to pursue American citizenship.” And in his State of the Union address later that month, he said his plan would “preserve the citizenship path” for those in the guest-worker program.

But last October, his secretary of labor, Elaine L. Chao, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that illegal aliens “would not have a legal pathway to citizenship.” In November, Mr. Bush himself said his program “would not create an automatic path to citizenship” and followed that with his comments yesterday.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and author of a temporary-worker plan, said Mr. Bush has become more specific as the debate has crystallized.

“When he made that first announcement on immigration, there were very few actual plans,” Mr. Stewart said. “There is more specificity now over here, which allows the president to have more specificity. We know certain things are off the table.”

Mr. Cornyn is sponsoring a plan with Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, that would require temporary workers — both newcomers and illegal aliens — to return home after their time is up. It goes further than Mr. Bush has in saying illegal aliens would have to return home even before entering a guest-worker program to finalize their applications.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said that even though he supports a path to citizenship, temporary status may be the most he can win right now.

“If in the end, if they say let’s just kick this can down the road and give people a temporary visa and decide after six years what to do, that may be the best we can do. I don’t know, in this political environment,” he said.

But he said if that happens, it will just be delaying the inevitable.

“It would be with a wink-wink, nod-nod, figure things out in six years,” he said. “If we want to pretend, whatever gets us to a point where we can have a legal status for people, because otherwise we’re promoting lawlessness and pretending these people aren’t here.”

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