President's plan on immigration faces tough time
As expected, President George W. Bush used his visit to the Yuma area as a springboard to talk about illegal immigration, much as he did last May when he first came to our community.
The climate was different this time, not only because the weather was cooler but also because there is less heat in Congress over the issue than in the past. The debate over illegal immigration is far from over, but it is more subdued.
It could heat up quickly, however, if the president is successful in pushing forward the immigration proposals he announced during his brief visit.
The key points set out by the president have the same skeleton as he has announced in the past but the flesh on the bones is a little different. The proposals are:
- A continued emphasis on controlling the border through increased "feet on the ground" and the use of fencing and innovative technology.
- A secure worker verification program for employers and punishment of those who deliberately hire illegal workers.
- A temporary worker program that matches willing employers with foreign workers.
- A program to allow illegal workers already here to continue to live here if they pay major fines to acknowledge their wrongdoing and leave the country temporarily while applying for new work permits.
The final provision will likely be the most controversial. It is a bow to foes of illegal immigration in the president's own political party who demand that illegal immigrants not be given amnesty. Hard-liners demand all illegal immigrants currently here be sent home forcibly, something the president says is impractical and won't happen.
His compromise is to ask them to voluntarily leave, pay a fine in retribution for their misconduct and get a work permit costing thousands of dollars before returning to this country.
It won't happen. The first protests against the proposal were held Saturday in Los Angeles, even though the anti-amnesty plan has yet to be formalized. They were reminiscent of large pro-immigrant protests last year, including ones here in Yuma.
Efforts to secure the border, improve worker verification and provide an accessible guest worker program are all components of any workable immigration plan. They are probably acceptable to many Americans who recognize them as moderate approaches to a difficult issue.
But the president's plan to punish illegal immigrants already here, some for many years, is unlikely to please either side of this issue. Hard-liners on immigration won't think it goes far enough while those who support the foreign workers will think it goes way too far.
It could be the provision that causes the president's reform plan to run aground.