Gulf News

Immigratio­n plan: penalty or amnesty?

Resolving the status of undocument­ed immigrants living in America is one of the several sticking points for lawmakers on Capitol Hill

- BY GAIL RUSSELL CHADDOCK

With a call on Monday for a “practical answer” to dealing with illegal immigrants already in the US, President Bush did what Congress’s Democratic leadership had urged him to do: go first.

By stepping out front on immigratio­n reform, the president signalled his readiness to take on an issue many here see as toxic.

Whether Bush can deliver enough votes to push through the broad reform law he wants is what Democrats are asking, knowing he has been battered by the Iraq war and has lost influence even within his own party.

Bush’s proposal would require immigrants in the United States illegally to return to their home countries and pay what Bush called a “meaningful penalty” to qualify to work legally in the US or apply for citizenshi­p. It also would create a temporary guest-worker programme.

Bush laid out his argument in support of that plan on Monday, during a stop at a newly fortified border crossing in Yuma, Arizona. His aim: to win over those lawmakers who see eventual citizenshi­p for illegal immigrants as a quasi-amnesty, a reward for breaking the law.

“It is impractica­l to take the position that, ‘Oh, we’ll just find the 11 million or 12 million people and send them home.’ That’s just an impractica­l position. It’s not going to work,” Bush said.

How to resolve the status of undocument­ed immigrants already living in America is but one of several sticking points for lawmakers on Capitol Hill — and much of the American public. The guest worker programme, too, is expected to be controvers­ial.

Opposition to anything like amnesty for those who entered or stayed in the United States illegally crosses party lines. Nearly half of the House Republican caucus are members of the Immigratio­n Reform Caucus, which opposes new guest worker plans or a path to citizenshi­p for those here illegally.

Border agents

Both the House and Senate passed immigratio­n-reform bills in the last Congress but failed to come to terms on a comprehens­ive plan. What emerged was a bill to build a fence on the border with Mexico, hire more border patrol agents, and add sensors and cameras to help pinpoint illegal crossers.

Since 2001, the Bush administra­tion has increased the number of border agents from about 9,000 to 13,000. “The number of people apprehende­d for illegally crossing our southern border is down by nearly 30 per cent this year,” Bush said in Yuma.

This year, Democrats control both bodies — thanks mainly to wins by conservati­ve freshmen, many of whom ran campaigns opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants.

While the president didn’t give details of his plan, one draft proposal calls for illegal immigrants to pay a $10,000 (about Dh36,700) fine to qualify for a three-year work visa. A leak of this plan prompted a protest rally by undocument­ed workers and their supporters in Los Angeles last weekend.

Commenting on Bush’s speech, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on the president to “work collaborat­ively and on a bipartisan basis to pass comprehens­ive immigratio­n reform” and urged him to take up the Security Through Regularise­d Immigratio­n and a Vibrant Economy Act (Strive Act) introduced by two Republican­s.

Unlike leaked versions of the Senate GOP plan, the Strive Act would require undocument­ed workers to leave the US to regularise their status, but not necessaril­y that they go to their countries of origin. The House plan also sets a lower fine.

“The president didn’t side particular­ly with one proposal or another. He didn’t talk about $10,000 fines, which is good,” says Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank.

“These are going to be hard negotiatio­ns, and both sides are going to have to give. He did a good job of generating momentum. “While Senate negotiatio­ns on a bipartisan bill bogged down in recent weeks, Senate leaders say they will take up some version of immigratio­n reform in the two weeks before the Memorial Day recess, even if it means going back to the bipartisan bill that the Senate passed in the last Congress. If the Senate does produce a bill, Speaker Pelosi could find that she can craft a bipartisan House bill with only 30 or 40 GOP votes, says Jacoby, who is advising Democrats on the immigratio­n issue.

 ?? Illustrati­on by NIÑO JOSE HEREDIA/Gulf News ??
Illustrati­on by NIÑO JOSE HEREDIA/Gulf News

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