President Bush is trying to return to the good graces of conservatives after the forced withdrawal of Supreme Court candidate Harriet Miers, but a dispute over immigration policy could render that task more difficult than scaling a border fence.
Foes of Bush’s immigration reform plan _ which would create a temporary worker program to permit some of the 9 million unregistered aliens to remain in this country _ say it would not only rob Americans of jobs, but also jeopardize the nation’s security.
“A guest worker program would be an open invitation to potential terrorists,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus. “They could enter the country legally, get a job, and use the program as cover. One of the terrorists who blew up the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993 did just that under an earlier program.”
But Bush said his proposal would open jobs to unregistered aliens that Americans are unwilling to fill.
“All who participate in the temporary worker program must have a job, or, if not living in the United States, a job offer,” Bush said in announcing his proposal in January 2004. “The legal status granted by this program will last three years and will be renewable, but it will have an end. Participants who do not remain employed, who do not follow the rules of the program, or who break the law will not be eligible for continued participation and will be required to return to their home.”
Despite administration efforts, Congress thus far has avoided confronting the issue, although Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has expressed his intent to deal with it early in 2006. The Federation for American Immigration Reform asserts the Bush initiatives don’t go far enough to address what they consider a critical problem, and that group absolutely despises the idea of a temporary worker program.
FAIR President Dan Stein maintains the president’s plan is a thinly disguised amnesty program that jeopardizes the jobs of American workers, insisting that “no administration in history has been as disdainful of American workers as the one currently occupying the White House.”
“While the public is demanding immigration enforcement and overall reductions in immigration levels, the administration is pushing hard for sham immigration proposals in the form of an unpopular amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and massive increases in overall immigration levels,” Stein said.
Tancredo was equally dismissive of the president’s efforts, maintaining they will prove detrimental to the economy.
“We are outsourcing American jobs to foreign workers in America,” he said. “Nearly every study shows that cheap foreign labor takes jobs away from Americans and depresses their wages. Under the administration’s foreign worker program, Americans will have to compete with cheap foreign labor for any job anywhere.”
The vitriol and opinion polls that show widespread disapproval of the administration’s approach to immigration has sent congressional Republicans scurrying for a tougher approach. On Thursday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., whose district abuts the Baja California region of Mexico, announced plans to introduce legislation authorizing the construction of a two-layer reinforced fence, replete with lighting and sensors, along a 2,000-mile stretch of the Mexican border, running from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
One group placed the cost of the project at $8 billion.
The House this year already has approved $35 million funding to complete a 14-mile wall in Hunter’s district near San Diego. Hunter tied wall construction to the need to enhance internal security.
“One of our nation’s greatest domestic priorities remains the protection of our homeland,” he said. “Four years have passed since the attacks of September 11th and the terrorist threat has not subsided, nor will it subside until we reinforce and protect our borders.”
The Bush administration recently has offered signs that it is moving toward that get tough approach. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose agency oversees U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, appeared before the Houston Forum on Wednesday to express his determination to “gain control” of the nation’s borders.
“We have a legal and civic obligation to the American people to secure our borders,” Chertoff said. “Illegal migration is a severe and growing security threat. Illegal migration undercuts the rule of law. Illegal migration undermines our national security. And illegal migration imposes particular public safety and economic strains on our border communities.”
Chertoff said his new Secure Border Initiative will place more immigration agents along the borders, increase detention facilities, enhance infrastructure along the border to make entry more difficult, and crackdown on businesses that hire unregistered aliens.
Tellingly, in his lengthy address, Chertoff never mentioned the president’s temporary worker program. And reports indicate Bush doesn’t intend to broach the subject of immigration when he attends the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on Friday and Saturday.
(Contact Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com)