Millions of illegal aliens in the United States would be free from arrest and deportation, have access to tax-deferred savings accounts and Social Security credits, and get unrestricted travel to and from their home countries under President Bush’s guest-worker program.
According to previously undisclosed details of the president’s plan, which some critics have described as a limited amnesty, the proposal offers numerous “incentives” for the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens to come “out of the shadows,” Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, the nation’s border and transportation security czar, told a Senate panel.
Mr. Hutchinson, in a written response to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Bush plan would help eliminate sleepless nights for illegal aliens worried that a simple misstep, such as a traffic ticket or accident, “could result in bringing them to the attention of federal authorities and their subsequent deportation.”
“Eliminating the fear of deportation will be an incentive,” Mr. Hutchinson said in the 13-page response. “Undocumented aliens will tell you they often have trouble sleeping at night, and leaving for work each day, not knowing if they will make it home at the end of the day.”
Mr. Hutchinson said the president’s guest-worker plan recognizes that some aliens working illegally in this country who decide to pursue citizenship should be “allowed to apply for lawful permanent residence in the normal way.”
But, he said, in order not to give an “unfair advantage” to illegal aliens over those immigrants “who have followed legal procedures from the start,” the Bush plan would seek “a reasonable annual increase in legal migrants.”
In January, Mr. Bush proposed a guest-worker program that would allow millions of illegal aliens in the country to remain if they have jobs and apply as guest workers.
The Senate panel sent Mr. Hutchinson its questions at that time. Mr. Hutchinson responded within a few weeks, although his answers were not made public.
Under Mr. Bush’s proposal, the aliens could stay for an undetermined number of renewable 3-year periods, after which they could seek permanent legal status.
The proposal has been met with criticism from law enforcement authorities and has been challenged by both Republicans and Democrats. Some have called the plan an amnesty program that invites aliens in this country illegally to gain perpetual legal status. Others said it was unpractical and could become a scheme to identify illegal aliens and deport them.
The National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 10,000 of the Border Patrol’s nonsupervisory agents, has called the Bush plan a “slap in the face to anyone who has ever tried to enforce the immigration laws of the United States.”
In the written response, Mr. Hutchinson said the Bush plan would:
Allow illegal aliens working in the United States to create tax-deferred savings accounts that could be withdrawn on return to their home countries. He said this would encourage savings and even capitalization in businesses, houses or land in the aliens’ home countries.
Give the aliens access to bilateral agreements the United States has with 20 countries, allowing them to combine earned Social Security credits and receive benefits in their home country. He said the administration would work with its international partners to encourage recognition of the aliens’ contributions in both countries.
Give the aliens access to travel, knowing they can “go and return freely to the country of origin for celebrations, funerals or vacations.” He said cards would be given to the aliens allowing them to travel back and forth between their home countries and the United States “without fear of being denied re-entry.”
Mr. Hutchinson said the president believes provisions should be made for the aliens’ families to remain in this country or travel to the United States with the temporary workers, if they can demonstrate an ability to financially support their families and if the family members are not criminal or security risks.
Current law says an alien who has lived illegally in the United States for longer than 180 days must return home and wait three years before applying for legal visitor or immigrant status, and 10 years if he has been here illegally for a year.
Mr. Hutchinson said that since many of the illegal aliens who would participate in the Bush plan would have exceeded the three-year and 10-year bars, any legislation to create the program would need to supercede those restrictions.
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has said that within 100 days of taking office as president, he would propose a plan to legalize illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for at least five years, worked and paid taxes, and passed a security background check. Unlike the Bush plan, Mr. Kerry would grant green cards and give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Much of Mr. Hutchinson’s response was directed at questions by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who asked why illegal aliens in the United States would participate in the Bush plan if they were going to be sent home in three or six years.
“These are people who have lived here for a decade or more, put down roots, are raising U.S. children. Unless they are assured an opportunity to apply for permanent residence and ultimately citizenship, why would they come out of the shadows for a few years to risk deportation when the program ends?” Mr. Kennedy asked.