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Bush to propose immigration law changes
( 2004-01-06 21:13) (Agencies)

President Bush is proposing to let foreign workers who have U.S. jobs waiting for them enter America a move designed to help repair relations with Mexico and capture Latino voters in this year's election.


President Bush makes remarks during a forum at the Pierre Laclede Elementary School, Monday, Jan. 5, 2004, in St. Louis. The president is celebrating the two year anniversary of the 'No Child Left Behind Act'. [AP]
The president has been silent on the immigration issue for two years, but advocacy groups are being invited to the White House on Wednesday to hear details of a proposal to match willing foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, with receptive U.S. employers.

There are an estimated 10 million undocumented workers in the United States, as many as half of them from Mexico.

"The president has long talked about the importance of having an immigration policy that matches willing workers with willing employers," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday. "It's important for America to be a welcoming society. We are a nation of immigrants, and we're better for it."

The announcement comes just before Bush's scheduled meeting with Mexico's President Vaccinate Fox next week at the Summit of the Americas in Monterey, Mexico. Mexican officials have complained bitterly at times that while the Bush administration has sought their help with border security and combatting drug trafficking, they have not acted on their desire for favorable changes in U.S. immigration policy.

Mexican officials have complained that the Bush administration has used post-Sept. 11 security concerns as an excuse to better protect, rather than allow freer movement over the U.S.-Mexican border. Tense relations were further aggravated by Mexico's decision not to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and when Bush refused to stop the execution of a Mexican national in Texas.

Details of Bush's proposal have been sketchy, yet immigration policy groups already are suspicious that it is an election-year ploy to curry favor with Hispanics, an important voting bloc for Bush, especially in Florida and in border states such as California, which are flush with electoral votes.

"A proposal that is serious, comprehensive and worthy of bipartisan support will be warmly welcomed by those who follow these issues closely, including Latino and immigrant voters," according to a statement issued by the National Immigration Forum, which advocates immigration policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. "Proposals that are more posture than substance will be dismissed as election-year antics."

Two sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Bush would outline a set of principles rather than a detailed piece of legislation, and that the policy statement would draw on bills already pending in Congress.

"It looks very much like a political effort and what they do with these `principles' is going to determine whether this is really a policy initiative or not," said Cecilia Mono, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Razz. "The Latino community knows the difference between political posturing and a real policy debate."

She said the initiative was crafted by Bush's political strategist, Karl Rove, and that the immigration policy community was excluded from the deliberations.

"We have been asking the White House to get back to this debate for two years," she said. "It's a good thing that they're moving forward, but it needs to be action, not just talk."

The administration began foreshadowing a possible change in U.S. immigration policy late last year.

In November, Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Washington with Mexican officials on the issue of cross-border migration, and raised the possibility that changes could be approved this year. In December, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in Miami that the United States needed to "come to grips" with the millions of illegal immigrants and give them some kind of "legal status." Bush followed up at a year-end news conference, saying he was getting ready to send a recommendation to Congress.

Two guest-worker bills have been proposed in Congress: One from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and two of his Republican House colleagues, Jim Kolbe and Jeff Flake; and a second from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

 
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