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Proposal gets mixed reactions

Citizen Staff and Wire Reports

Citizen Staff and Wire Report

Anti-immigration groups say President Bush has gone too far with his immigration policy guidelines, human rights activists say the plan doesn’t go far enough and business groups applaud the effort.

Bush’s proposed changes would give legal status to foreign workers who obtain jobs in the United States, as well as the millions of illegal immigrants already working here.

“There needs to be opportunity for people to go down the path to citizenship and provisions for family reunification,” said Jennifer Allen, co-director of Border Action Network, a human rights advocacy group.

And beyond matching willing employees with willing employers, the United States must ensure wage and labor protection, she said.

But Glenn Spencer, president of American Border Patrol, a border watchdog group, said the president’s proposal rewards lawbreakers and will encourage more illegal entries.

Plus, Spencer said, the concept of simply matching willing employers and employees creates an unprofessional culture in this country.

“It will turn the U.S. into a day labor center,” he said. “Anyone who wants to make a buck will come here and that cheapens our country.”

Allen’s concern is that employers not see this as a way to exploit workers.

“The problem with that in the past is that people got so tied to the employer,” she said.

When that happens, employees are less likely to complain about working conditions, abuse of time or unpaid wages, Allen said.

“We need to make sure that workers are not just used and spit out,” she said.

Both sides are waiting for the president’s plan to be detailed and rallying respective support for legislation that they feel best addresses the issue.

“I’m afraid this is going to turn out to be an election year promise,” Allen said.

Spencer said the politicians need to look at the consequence, especially if family reunification is part of the package.

“A new general amnesty … with family reunification could include half of Mexico,” he said. “That would be a disaster for this country.”

Some trade associations for home builders, produce growers and restaurant owners said yesterday their industries support plans that would make it easier to legally hire workers from Mexico and elsewhere.

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday called for a guest worker program that would help businesses verify employees’ legal status, allow workers’ immediate families into the country and give workers the chance to apply for residency within three years.

The Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association has been talking with the state’s congressional delegation about guest worker proposals and is cautiously optimistic about the current plans, said Steve Chucri, the group’s president and chief executive officer.

Tim Booth, general manager at the Hilton El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, said the Hilton chain has participated in the J-1 and H-1 visa programs for many years to fill jobs mostly done by foreigners.

The Hilton El Conquistador uses immigrants for at least half the jobs in food and beverage service, more than half of room maintenance staff and three-fourths of golf course personnel.

“As we move to a global economy, this kind of program can only benefit us,” Booth said.

“I think it will have a lot more parameters to satisfy (for workers) to be eligible. The screening of applications will be wider and broader. I welcome the program. I believe it is a needed addition.”

Western Growers, with 3,000 member agribusinesses in Arizona and California, supports plans that would give legal status to farmworkers who have been in the United States for many years, Jasper Hempel, executive vice president, said.

Green cards not assured

Citizen Wire Services

WASHINGTON – President Bush’s immigration reform proposal would allow millions of illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work permits, but they would receive “no special advantage” in obtaining green cards that confer permanent U.S. residence, administration officials said yesterday.

In a preview of Bush’s planned announcement today, officials conceded that many key details remain to be worked out with Congress and said the president would set no timetable for legislative action.

Bush is committed to immigration reform, the administration officials said, but he sees his role as setting out principles, not prescribing details. Although the Bush plan would confer many benefits on illegal immigrants, officials insisted that it is not an amnesty because it would not entitle them to remain in the United States indefinitely.

“The green card is permanent residency status. We are talking about a temporary worker program,” said one official. “Therein lies the basic difference. We are talking about someone who can be here on a temporary status and ultimately find themselves back in their home country after working in the United States.”

But officials also said temporary workers would enjoy the protection of U.S. laws – including the opportunity to apply for green cards, minimum wage and workplace safety rules, retirement plans and even the right to open tax-deferred savings accounts.

“These people will be on the books, as opposed to an underground economy,” said a second official. “They will be able to own property and they will pay taxes. They will enjoy minimum wage and health and safety requirements.”

The officials briefed reporters on condition that they not be identified.

The temporary worker program would have no limitation on the number of immigrant workers who could participate.

The program would be open to illegal immigrants already here as well as those who want to come to the United States. Agriculture, the hospitality industry and construction are expected to be the main employers.

To participate in the program, illegal immigrants already in the United States would have to pay a “registration fee,” to be set in consultation with Congress, and show they are currently employed. Workers who want to come to the United States will need to prove that they have a job awaiting them. The initial temporary work visa would be for three years and could be renewed.

Once accepted as temporary workers, illegal immigrants could apply for green cards. The administration said it would ask Congress for a “reasonable” increase in the number of green cards available through employment-related programs. Currently, employer-sponsored permanent immigrants are limited to 140,000 a year.

But the temporary workers would have no guarantee that they could become permanent residents or, eventually, U.S. citizens.

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