Mixed Reception for Bush Immigration Plan
Rita M. Gerona-Adkins
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 09, 2005 — As expected, President George W. Bush tackled his agenda for immigration policy reform in his State of the Union Address on February 2.
In 92 words and in less than a minute out of his 40-minute-long address, Bush criticized the present immigration system and suggested a policy reform:
“America’s immigration system is also outdated – unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country.
“We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border.
“It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.”
He first broached that agenda way back 2001 after talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
It was shelved in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Its revival with Bush’s new mandate and strengthened leadership is much anticipated, including among Filipino Americans.
“I welcome President Bush’s proposal as this affects our families,” Jon Melegrito, public relations officer of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, told Philippine News.
“We hope that this will have some effect, not only in legalizing immigrant workers, but also in opening up an opportunity for them to become citizens. This is an opportunity to open it for public dialogue.”
J. Traci Hong, deputy director for policy of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, a 14-year-old, D.C.-based clearinghouse of APA issues and concerns, told PN her reaction.
“President Bush has to be commended for bringing up immigration reform in his address – given the anti-immigrant sentiment among other Republican leaders,” she said.
“Having said that, a comprehensive immigration reform policy has to include these elements: 1) family reunification, 2) reduction of immigrants’ backlogs, 3) a pass to citizenship that many of the eight to 10 million illegal immigrants who are already in the country long for, and 4) strong labor protection that will protect the U.S. and the immigrants who will use the proposed temporary guest workers program.
“It is critically important that any reform, in order to be a political success, has to be bipartisan.”
The anti-immigrant sentiment she is referring to may be certain legislative moves in the 109th Congress restricting immigrants’ rights as a way to ensure homeland security.
For instance, H.R. 418, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R, Wi.), is being readied for a House vote next week. This bill will deny non-citizens a driver’s license, restrict amnesty for refugees, and would make people inadmissible and deportable for First Amendment-protected activity.
This “Real ID Act,” as it is called, was introduced last month on January 25 with 115 co-sponsors.
It is expected to be attached as an amendment to the tsunami relief or Iraq war supplemental appropriations bills as early as Feb. 9. Another bill – H.R. 368, introduced by Rep. Tom Davis (R, Va.) similarly curtails the issuance of driver’s license to an immigrant with undocumented legal status. And of course, Rep. Tom G. Tancredo (R, Co.), head of a congressional immigration caucus – he has been known to oppose any practical suggestion for dealing with illegals other than to deport them as criminals who have broken the law – now leads the move to derail the Bush proposal.
Dana Millbank, of the Washington Post, also picked up on the coolness of some congressional members to the president’s proposal. In her Feb. 3 story from the Capitol’s press gallery, she wrote: “When Bush turned to his plans for ‘temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take,’ it was the conservatives’ turn to voice dissent. About two dozen of the Republican lawmakers remained in their seats as others – Democrats among them – stood to applaud.”
Marlan Maralit, organizing director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, has a greater disappointment – what he sees as Bush’s inability to empathize with immigrant working families.
“Once again President Bush fails communities of color and immigrant working families on how to address immigration reform and the further erosion of our civil and human rights in this country. We must continue to organize and build working coalitions to fight back this administration’s attempt to deny our communities of progress and prosperity,” he told PN.
Based on 2002 Census figures, it is calculated that about 60 percent of 12.5 million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. are foreign-born, hence, have a significant number of non-naturalized members. While estimates are not reliable, it is not unseemly to assume that the Filipino population in the U.S., which ranks second to the Chinese, has a significant number of undocumented individuals.