-Caveat Lector-
Backdoor amnesty for illegal aliens but only if requested by a "business." - JR
The New York Times

August 4, 2003

Republicans Put Immigration Laws Back on Political Agenda


WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 — For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, several Republicans in Congress are pushing for broad legislation that would regulate the flow of foreign workers into the country and potentially legalize millions of illegal employees.

Senator John McCain and Representatives Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake, all Republicans from Arizona, introduced bills in July that would grant permanent residency over several years to foreign workers who enter the country legally and to illegal workers already in the United States. Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, also introduced a guest worker bill last month.

The measures have been criticized by liberal advocacy groups that contend that they do too little for immigrants and by conservative Republicans who say they go too far. White House officials say they have not taken a stance on the bills, and their proponents do not expect them to pass this year.

But critics on both sides of the political divide said the proposals were still significant because they constituted the first time Republicans in Congress had pushed aggressively for comprehensive changes in immigration laws since talks on the issue between President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico collapsed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox had been working on a long-term strategy to regulate immigration flows from Mexico and legalize the status of millions of illegal immigrants already in this country. The plan appealed to Hispanics and to big businesses, important political constituencies for the Bush administration.

"To have Republicans stepping up and proposing these important but imperfect bills is something of a breakthrough," said Frank Sharry, who runs the National Immigration Forum, a policy group.

"To me, it's the post-9/11 signal that it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when we're going to legalize more migration so that we can better regulate it," Mr. Sharry said.

Mr. McCain said he expected the plans to be attacked from "both ends of the spectrum" and that the legislation would face many political obstacles.

Advocates for immigrants said that the bills lacked adequate safeguards for workers and created a complicated and arduous legalization process. On the other side, Representative Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado, has criticized the plans as an attack on America's borders.

"It's really amnesty on the installment plan," said Mr. Tancredo, the leader of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, which favors reducing immigration. "They are even more ambitious in their amnesty proposal than some of the Democrats I've seen. We have to watch this carefully."

Mr. McCain and other supporters of the proposals said that many illegal immigrants did jobs that Americans do not want and that legalizing such workers would help many businesses. They also said they hoped that the legislation would help curtail or end the abuses some illegal immigrants suffer. Many die during desert crossings or suffer at the hands of smugglers and ruthless employers.

"We all know it is an issue that must be addressed," Mr. McCain said in a telephone interview. "The status quo is no longer acceptable. This starts the debate."

The bills would allow the number of worker visas to be determined by the demand for workers. Jobs listed on a Labor Department registry for 14 days and not filled by Americans could be given to an immigrant guest worker. The jobs would be advertised every three years to ensure that American workers were not interested.

Foreign workers who apply for temporary work visas while living abroad could apply for legal permanent residency after working in the United States for three years. Illegal immigrants already here would have to pay a $1,500 fine and wait for three years before applying for permanent residency if an employer sponsored the application, or six years without an employer sponsor.

"We will be able to funnel 99 percent of the currently undocumented population through ports of entry, where they can be documented, screened and monitored to give the U.S. a better understanding of who is living within the nation's borders," Mr. Kolbe said in a speech in Tucson last week.

Mr. Cornyn's bill would allow illegal immigrants to receive guest worker status if sponsored by their employers. But they would have to return home after three years. Once there, their applications for permanent residency would be given priority.

Democrats say Mr. Cornyn's bill would separate families by requiring workers to leave the United States to apply for green cards.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. Cornyn, said the senator was pleased that the measure had stirred debate. "It has sparked discussion and it will continue to do so," Mr. Stewart said.

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