Little Support for Bush Immigration Plan

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Bush administration's plan to allow illegal immigrants and foreign nationals to work in the United States for up to six years before being sent home is being criticized by observers on both sides of the political spectrum as "vague," "lacking detail" and unlikely to gain support in Congress.

"The administration hasn't given any detail. They're not interested in passing it. They're just interested in talking about it," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that seeks to limit immigration. "In the software business, they call this vaporware. They don't want to offend this side or the other side, so they punt."

Under the proposed temporary worker program, outlined for the first time this week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, an estimated 8 million to 11 million illegal immigrants in the country and foreign nationals outside the country could register with the government to work in the United States for three years and later sign up to work for three more.

They would be given biometric identification cards that allow them to travel freely between the United States and their home countries. But at the end of the program, they would be sent home.

Asked by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) how much it would cost to deport 11 million people, Chertoff said "billions and billions and billions of dollars," adding that the idea is not feasible.

But sooner or later, under the administration's proposal, there would be an immigrant exodus of historic proportions.

"It would assume that 11 million would register right away and that at the end of six years 11 million would have to go, " said Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the liberal American Immigration Lawyers Association. "People aren't going to report to deport."

Criticism rained on the plan even though the administration sought to bridge the ideological divide by borrowing from two competing immigration reform proposals already in the Senate.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) proposed to eventually send foreign workers home after their time in the program ended, like the Bush plan. But Kyl and Cornyn would require illegal immigrants to leave the country before applying for jobs.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kennedy would require illegal immigrants to pay a fine before participating and go to the back of the employment line, same as the administration. But foreign workers could seek citizenship if they break no laws before their time ends, which the administration does not allow.

Conservatives were divided. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) responded sharply to a statement by President Bush, who said illegal immigrants should be brought out of the shadows and allowed to work legally.

"Bringing workers out of the shadows is simply another way of saying we should legalize illegal immigrants," Tancredo said. "Yes, we should bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows, and then return them to their home country."

Krikorian said one way to solve the immigration problem would be to enforce laws against employers who hire illegal workers for cheap labor.

In testimony this week, administration officials acknowledged that about 400,000 employees are using a single Social Security number, all zeroes. But there was little discussion about penalizing employers who accept such numbers, Krikorian said.

"There's no effort to inform employers regularly of fake Social Security numbers," he said. "That's something the president can do tomorrow."

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