Chertoff, Chao Promote Guest Worker Program

AP, Oct. 16

WASHINGTON—Beefing up border patrols alone won’t stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, administration officials said Tuesday in promoting President Bush’s proposal to set up a temporary worker program for foreign nationals.

“We’re going to need more than just brute enforcement,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’re going to need a temporary worker program as well.”

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao provided a general outline of the plan Bush introduced last year, emphasizing that undocumented workers accepted into the program would receive no advantages over immigrants in the country legally and that they would be required to return home after their work period ends.

“Those who come forward will not be offered an automatic pass to citizenship and should be expected to pay a substantial fine or penalty to participate in the temporary program,” she said.

Under the president’s plan, she said, guest workers would have to leave the country after three years, but could apply for a second three-year stint.

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But Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said his panel, currently occupied with the Harriet Miers’ Supreme Court nomination, would address comprehensive immigration reform. “It is a matter of very, very substantial urgency.”

He cited one recent report that there are now more illegal immigrants in the country, often estimated at around 11 million, than legal immigrants.

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Chertoff also pledged to end the “catch and release” policy that has allowed tens of thousands of non-Mexican illegal aliens to disappear within the United States.

“Return every single illegal entrant—no exceptions,” Chertoff said in prepared testimony to the committee.

Chertoff said that the nearly 900,000 Mexicans who are caught entering United States every year are returned immediately to Mexico, “but other parts of the system have nearly collapsed under the weight of numbers.”

Chertoff said that in the just-concluded budget year 120,000 of the 160,000 non-Mexican nationals apprehended by the Border Patrol were released, often on their own recognizance, because there is no place to hold them. “That is unacceptable and we are going to change that immediately.”

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WASHINGTON—President Bush’s ambitious plan to give millions of undocumented immigrants a shot at legal temporary work in the United States is dead in Congress.

Two hurricanes, two Supreme Court nominees, Republican in-fighting and the president’s own slump in the polls have put Bush’s “guest worker” initiative on the shelf for this year.

Instead of rallying behind the Bush temporary worker proposal, conservative Republicans are about to head in the opposite direction with legislation to crack down on undocumented immigrants and companies that employ them.

“Political momentum has changed in our favor,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who leads a group of more than 80 House lawmakers who generally oppose expanding immigration.

Conservative Republicans have vowed to block any initiative that would give work visas to immigrants in the country illegally—even if the permits are good only temporarily.

In any case, lawmakers say they are just too busy to pay any attention to the Bush proposal.

“I think Katrina and Rita knocked it off the fall Senate calendar,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is sponsoring a bill modeled after Bush’s guest worker initiative. “Given the crunch caused by two Supreme Court nominations, and Katrina and Rita, it’s looking like January” will be the earliest the Senate will consider comprehensive immigration bills, Cornyn said.

But in 2006—an election year—many Republicans won’t be eager to wade into a contentious fight over immigration while also confronting rising gas prices and growing concerns over the war in Iraq.

The administration’s guest worker proposal is the latest item on Bush’s second-term agenda to go on life-support, joining now-stalled plans to overhaul the tax code and the Social Security system.

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