By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
November 29, 2005
Appearing in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday, Bush reiterated his call to tighten the nation's southern border, an appeal lauded by his Republican supporters. But his proposal for a guest-worker program sounds too much like amnesty to those concerned about the stream of illegal aliens entering the country, a number estimated to have reached 11 million.
"This administration has a sustained track record of ignoring reality when it conflicts with what the corporate interests want it to do," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "The president's plan is nothing more than a massive illegal-alien amnesty on a six-year time delay, while his temporary-worker program - which will be anything but temporary - is the death knell for America's middle class."
Some, like Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., maintain that the president has been strong on rhetoric when it comes to immigration but weak on implementation.
"President Bush must do more than give speeches - he must demonstrate leadership by standing up and saying no to his right-wing allies who just want to close up our borders," Kennedy said. "As business leaders agree, what America needs is not closed borders or open borders, but smart borders - and commonsense immigration policies that make us secure and promote our progress. It is time to show that America can be both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws."
Bush has sought for more than a year to develop common ground on immigration, seeking to appease interests with warring agendas, all of them necessary to his governing coalition.
Business interests, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are leaning on the administration and Congress to reform the current system by allowing current undocumented workers to earn legal status and address potential worker shortfalls by providing a structured mechanism for employers to fill jobs when American workers are unavailable.
"Despite fluctuations in the U.S. employment rate, the fact of the matter is our domestic labor pool continues to shrink," said Randel Johnson, the chamber's vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits. "We need to ensure that our immigration policy reflects this reality and provides opportunities for employers to fill jobs critical to our economy when American workers are not available."
The president also is furthering his efforts to woo the Latino community to the GOP. Bush captured 45 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 re-election, a 10-point increase over his 2000 numbers. Latinos represent about 12 percent of the total vote - a number that keeps growing. Bush wants a permanent shift of that vote to Republicans, and presenting the GOP as the anti-immigration party isn't the way to do it.
But conservatives are adamant that the borders be tightened and that those already here illegally be sent home.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, expressed support for the president's pledge to seal the borders. But he remained dismissive of Bush's support of a guest-worker program.
"What the White House still hasn't grasped is that Americans will not tolerate amnesty, no matter what you call it," Tancredo said. "When the president proposes allowing illegal aliens in the U.S. to stay for six years -a privilege not granted to the millions who are waiting to come here the right way - he doesn't punish lawbreakers as our laws provide. By rewarding lawbreaking, the president only encourages more of the same."
The strong reaction isn't stopping Bush from pushing his plan.
On Tuesday, the president accompanied agents of the U.S. Border Patrol, some on horseback, as they surveyed the Rio Grande across from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, near El Paso, Texas.
Bush again emphasized the need to secure the borders but returned to the guest-worker program, insisting that it's not a form of amnesty.
"A temporary-worker program would take pressure off our border," Bush said. "When you match willing worker with willing employer on a job Americans won't do, with a tamper-proof card that says, 'I'm here legally for a temporary basis,' it means our Border Patrol agents won't have to chase people coming here illegally to work. They'll be able to chase criminals and drug traffickers and crooks."
The House has expressed interest in considering, by the end of the year, measures to secure the nation's borders, but has shown no inclination to consider the president's guest-worker program. Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said his chamber likely won't consider any such legislation until February at the earliest.
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