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Bush Urges Immediate Action on Immigration Issues

March 2006
Bush Urges Immediate Action on Immigration Issues

Anti-immigration rhetoric has been on the rise this year, as many members of Congress are up for re-election and desperate to distract their constituents from a lagging economy, continued inaccessibility of affordable healthcare, and an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. However, many politicians, while targeting undocumented workers, have also had to walk a fine line with their corporate supporters, many of whom rely on some form of foreign labor to keep their businesses efficient and competitive. As a result, enforcement measures are focusing on border patrol and individual workers, rather than on penalizing employers who hire those without work authorization. Also, President Bush, on two separate occasions in February, has urged Congress to take action to assist businesses in need of foreign workers.

The first of these events was at the State of the Union address, where Bush noted the need for secure borders, stronger immigration enforcement, and border protection. He then went on to declare: "And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border."

Although Bush did not elaborate on the specifics of this program, his reiteration of a program he has supported since 2004 may finally have an effect on a Congress that has been unable to reach any agreement on immigration reform. However, most conservatives are not happy with Bush's guest worker plan. They see no value in making illegal workers legal, even if it is only temporary. Many in the immigrant community have balked at the Bush plan, saying that temporary legal status is not enough because it has a life of only six years for each worker, and does not lead to a green card or citizenship. Basically, the workers would be setting themselves up for later deportation by putting themselves on the radar. The Democratic Party is somewhat divided on this issue. Some view it as a step in the right direction while others believe it is too temporary to provide any real help to the workers. Senator Kerry, Bush's opponent in the 2004 presidential campaign, was totally against the guest worker program. He argued during his campaign that it will exploit the workers and won't solve anything for them long-term. It remains to be seen whether Congress can draft a workable compromise, acceptable to both parties and their constituents. We will keep Khabar readers updated as news on the progress of this program is released.

Also in February, President Bush urged Congress to increase the cap on the very popular H-1B program for specialty occupation workers. At a 3M Corp. plant outside Minneapolis, Bush said more international scientists and high-tech workers should be given visas to work in the United States. Federal law provides 65,000 H1-B visas for scientists, engineers, computer programmers and other professionals, every budget year. Of those, 6,800 are set aside for workers from Chile and Singapore under terms of U.S. trade agreements with those countries. High-tech and other employers say too few such visas are available and more are needed. Groups representing labor unions and high-tech workers say Americans are being replaced by foreign workers who work for less money. "I call upon Congress to be realistic and reasonable and raise that cap," he said. The cap for fiscal year 2006, which started on October 1, 2005, was met in August 2005, leaving thousands of employees and employers without a workable visa program. Congress has not yet taken action to increase this cap, but we urge all those with an interest to contact their Congressional representatives and support the H-1B program.

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