Illegal immigrants to work legally in US
( 2004-01-07 15:06) (Agencies)
U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday is poised to propose a temporary worker program to make millions of illegal immigrants work legally in the United States.
Facing a possibly close election in coming November, Bush is reviving an issue put on hold when the September 11, 2001, attacks raised American worries about terrorists slipping across U.S. borders and prompted tighter control of foreigners entering and living in the country.
Bush will lay out his plan on Wednesday afternoon local time from the White House East Room. He will outline broad principles and leave details to be negotiated with the Congress.
Under his plan, illegal immigrants in the United States would be able to gain legal status for an initial 3-year period if they can prove they have jobs, senior Bush administration officials said. Estimates on the number of illegal laborers range from 8 million to 14 million strong.
They would have permission to leave the country and come back as needed, and would be able to renew their 3-year visas for a number of times to be negotiated with the Congress, the officials said.
Officials insisted this did not amount to a blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants living in the United States and that having a job under the temporary worker program would not provide any additional advantage for obtaining permanent U. S. residency status.
"We believe this is an attractive program which will substantially reduce the number of illegals here," said one official who briefed reporters in a conference call.
In addition, those outside the country wanting to work in the United States would be able to sign up for jobs if they exist. Employers would first have to show the jobs cannot be filled by American residents, who increasingly shun the types of menial labor jobs that foreign immigrants will like to take.
Officials played down this possibility, saying border controls were much stronger in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. More than 400 people died over the past year trying to cross into the United States, and "coyote" smugglers command prices of $1,500 to $5,000 to ferret illegals in.
The goal is to end the "underground economy" that illegals operate in. Employers would have to pay them the minimum wage and their Social Security taxes.
The officials did not make clear what would happen to the children or other family members of the illegal immigrants who are living in the United States with the employed person.
If implemented, the plan could lead to the biggest change in U.S. immigration law since 1986 legislation giving legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, many of them smuggled across the Mexican border.
How long it would take to negotiate the legislation was unclear. "Who knows?" said senior official.
Bush's re-election team would like to increase Hispanic support for a second term for the president, particularly in states where they could tip the balance in his favor, such as Florida and California.
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