Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Bush administration will fight to reinstate a broader guest-worker program into the immigration bill, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said yesterday.

After a week’s debate in the Senate, Mr. Gutierrez said the administration is happy with the direction of the bill but needs to undo an amendment that cut future temporary guest-workers to 200,000.

“I’m a little bit worried about taking the temporary-workers permit down to 200,000,” he said, calling for Congress to put back in a provision allowing that number to fluctuate to allow businesses to bring in as many workers as they need. “What we need to understand is that, unless we have a legal system by which we can bring in temporary workers, then we’re leaving a void that can be filled by illegals, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid.”

Mr. Gutierrez, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said the bill pending in the Senate is the result of many compromises and urged lawmakers not to tinker with it too much when they return after a weeklong Memorial Day vacation.

Underlying the Senate bill, crafted by about a dozen senators from both parties behind closed doors, is a “grand bargain” — Republicans have agreed to create a new path to citizenship specifically for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States, while Democrats accepted changes to how future immigrants are selected and accepted creation of a guest-worker program to give jobs to future foreign workers.

But senators on both sides are balking at the deal, with many Democrats fighting to make the bill more lenient for illegal aliens and many Republicans trying to make the bill stricter.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said not allowing guest workers a chance at citizenship will create an underclass of exploitable workers. Appearing with Mr. Gutierrez on ABC, he said that without a path to citizenship, temporary workers will continue to overstay their visas and illegal immigration will continue.

As it stands now, the guest-worker program would allow 200,000 new workers per year to join the program. They would work in three-year cycles of two years in the United States and one year outside and could work for up to three cycles.

Initially the bill called for 400,000 guest workers a year and had a provision allowing that to fluctuate up to 600,000 if businesses needed it.

Critics, though, said that would depress American wages and could have led to 3.6 million guest workers in the country by the 10th year. Those critics managed to cut the program to 200,000 a year — the provision that Mr. Gutierrez said the administration will try to undo.

With Democrats controlling the process, Mr. Menendez used Democrats’ weekly Spanish-language radio address Saturday to lay out what other changes his party needs to see in a final bill: restoring broader rules that would allow immigrants to sponsor more of their family members to come to the United States and trying to remove the “touchback” provision that requires some illegal aliens, after 10 years of legal status, to leave the United States for at least a brief time to file an application for a green card from outside U.S. borders.

He said conservatives will have to face a decision when they vote on restoring broader family-immigration definitions, including allowing immigrants to bring adult siblings to the country.

“I would hope that the family-values crowd put their votes where their values are,” he said.

Although Mr. Menendez and his allies have had some success moving the bill to the left, those on the right have failed to make much of a dent.

Sen. David Vitter’s amendment to eliminate the new path to citizenship for illegal aliens — which conservatives call amnesty — failed last week, winning just 29 votes.

On other weekend talk shows, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he and others who want to legalize illegal aliens should be up front about calling it amnesty.

“I don’t know why this word ‘amnesty’ is such a terrible word,” he said on CNN. “I think these people would make good citizens. We ought to give them amnesty.”

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