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New Debate On Immigration

Congress and the ABA Tackle President Bush’s Temporary Worker Plan

Posted Mar 1, 2004 4:10 AM CDT
By Rhonda McMillion

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A wide range of proposals, in­cluding principles outlined by President Bush for a new temporary worker plan, have sparked renewed debate in Congress on immigration issues.

The president’s proposal would target 8 million to 12 million un­documented workers by offering legal status for a three-year period, after which they would be required to return to their countries. While the outline indicates that these workers may, under certain circumstances, have the opportunity to apply for green cards and permanent residency, they would be competing with other applicants for the limited number of available spots.

Bush also said he would endeavor to encourage un­documented workers to return home by expanding eco­nom­ic opportunities in their countries. One suggested incentive would give foreign workers Social Security credit in their home countries from contributions they made while employed here. Another would allow temporary work­ers a chance to put money in tax-free savings accounts that they could access when they return home.

Legislators Ponder Reform

The president has left the development of specific legislative language to Congress, where reaction to his plan has been mixed. Some legislators expressed concerns that the plan would be seen as a reward for illegal behavior by allowing undocumented workers to apply for the new program. Others said they felt the plan falls short of addressing serious problems with the system.

A more comprehensive approach to immigration reform is included in S. 2010, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. In addition to creating a foreign worker program, their proposal would increase the number of visas available to those waiting to be reunited with family members who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, and it would strengthen border security. “Immigration reform is an urgent national security priority,” Hagel said. “Congress must reform the patchwork of immigration laws that have created an underground, black market labor force.”

Other bipartisan legislation includes S. 1645 and H.R. 3142, which would enable about 500,000 undocumented agricultural workers to obtain permanent residency. Re­publican Sen. John McCain is one of three Arizona legislators pushing another measure to create two new visa programs that would try to stem the increasing numbers of immigrants risking their lives to enter the country. Hundreds of people have died in the past two years crossing the southern border of the United States.

The ABA has made immigration a legislative priority. It supports providing lawful, permanent residence to non­citi­zens who reside in the United States and demonstrate sig­nificant ties to this country. Such ties include employment, tax payments, lengthy residence and family members residing here. Immediate relatives of noncitizens who meet these requirements would also be entitled to stay.

Additionally, the ABA asserts that any temporary worker program must guarantee basic labor rights with the ability to change employers, and it must provide a realistic opportunity to obtain permanent resident status. The association contends that the situation of noncitizen farm­workers is particularly dire and supports efforts to improve their wages, working conditions and housing.

In other immigration areas, the ABA maintains that legal immigration should be based on family reuni­fica­tion, and the economic and cultural interests of the United States. The association also supports restoration of certain rights--including fair administrative hearings, judicial review and discretionary relief--that were denied to immigrants by sweeping immigration reforms enacted in 1996.

The ABA is working with Congress to enact legislation to appoint counsel at government expense for unaccompanied children in immigration proceedings and to require that children who cannot be released to family members be housed in familylike settings. Congressional hearings are being scheduled on the Bush proposals this session, but--with major changes in immigration law required to implement any new plan--immigration reform is not expected to come easily.

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