Bush guest worker plan criticized

“I do not believe any guest worker program ought to contain amnesty,” President Bush emphasized at a press conference at Kansas State University Jan. 23. Bush made it clear in extended remarks that harsher enforcement policies and vastly extended temporary work permit programs were his priorities. His statements indicated his opposition to legalization proposals by immigrants’ rights groups that include a “clear path to citizenship,” which conservatives label as “amnesty.”

The remarks sent a clear message to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to take up immigration issues in this month, that Bush expects the Senate to pass a bill with a major temporary worker program.

In a Nov. 28 press conference in Tucson, Ariz., Bush said that he looked to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) “to move beyond the old and tired choices of the immigration debate” in early 2006. He made clear his proposals “would not create an automatic path to citizenship.”

Bush’s November remarks on temporary worker legislation did not mention the House of Representatives, whose Republican leadership a week later introduced an extremely repressive enforcement-only bill, HR 4437, that made no provisions for temporary workers. When immigrants’ rights groups built widespread opposition to HR 4437 in mid-December, however, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy “strongly” urging passage of the enforcement-only bill. Leo Anchondo, head of the Catholic Church’s Justice For Immigrants campaign, said the president’s intervention was key to the House’s passage of the bill.

In his Jan. 23 remarks Bush said temporary work permits should be only for “a set period of time … dependent upon the action of Congress.” He did not mention how he saw other details being decided, especially what do you do with the 11-million-plus undocumented immigrants already here? Do you process them all as guest workers, including the over 1.7 million minor children who are undocumented? Then there are the over 2 million citizen children of the undocumented — what happens to them when their parents’ work permits expire? And then there are the family questions of future guest workers — immigrants are human beings who, like other humans, live in families.

These questions and others such as labor standards must be raised. What services are the guest workers eligible for? How will their taxes be handled? How equal and how unequal with other workers, with other people, will they be? How will they be counted in the census — will it be the same formula that was used for slaves in this country’s early years?

The House Republican leadership avoided these questions in rushing through the repressive HR 4437, whose message is basically that the undocumented and those associated with them will be treated as felons and possible terrorists.

Now it is up to the Senate and its Judiciary Committee to debate out the issue. Immigrant rights groups are building up a campaign to pressure the Senate, starting with the Judiciary Committee, for a program that rejects the HR 4437 House approach and provides a clear path to citizenship, labor protections, family reunifications, justly administered enforcement, and funds for English and other educational and community involvement programs.

To date the focus of immigrant rights groups has been against HR 4437. As the Senate debate approaches, there is more concern to also directly address the question of temporary worker programs.

In a Jan 17 letter to Sen. Specter, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson wrote, “There are far more moral solutions available than the massive expansion of temporary workers programs that serve only to provide employers with a a steady stream of vulnerable workers.”

Terrence O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union, said in a Jan. 19 press conference that any new temporary labor program must “mandate fair wages that do not undermine existing wages. And it must provide a path for temporary workers to earn — independent of an employer — permanent status as Americans.”

Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security is preparing for immigration “emergencies” or new programs. On Jan. 24 the Halliburton Company announced that its KBR subsidiary had received a contract worth up to $385 million for “establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing … Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.”