by Rebecca Aman
Latino and immigrant advocates generally agreed that President Bush’s call for comprehensive immigration reform April 9 in Yuma, Ariz., was an important step to move the debate forward, but remained largely critical of some of his proposals.
“The words were correct, but the meaning was unclear,’’ John Trasviña, president and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, (MALDEF), told Weekly Report in reaction to the president’s speech.
Bush urged Congress to pass a comprehensive bill this year His speech came a few days after a controversial White House draft to overhaul the immigration system which had circulated in the U.S. Congress leaked to the media.
“The President’s speech…was a positive, hopeful sign that he continues to believe that immigration reform has to be comprehensive,” stated National Council of La Raza president Janet Murguía. But she urged the president to “move beyond just selling this message and start delivering to make it happen.”
Bush touted the administration’s border security efforts, stating a goal to increase the number of Border Patrol agents from 13,000 to 18,000 by the end of next year.
In addition, he called for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a temporary worker program, but fell short of going into the specifics laid out in the White House draft.
According to the White House proposal, undocumented immigrants would have to pay more than $10,000 to attain citizenship. In his speech, Bush did not specify costs, but stated, “Illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law.”
He further called for allowing foreign workers to come in “for a temporary period of time.” Under the proposal, guest workers would be required to return to their countries of origin after six years.
Latino advocates oppose that idea, as well as another one that would not allow families to come in with the workers.
“Unfortunately, the president’s proposal falls short of his commitment to providing a realistic pathway for hard-working immigrants to have a shot at the American Dream,” stated Rosa Rosales, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
The organization stressed that visa categories for family members would be eliminated.
Jennifer Allen, director of the Arizona-based Border Action Network, stated, “President Bush’s announcement is misleading. He says his approach is ‘comprehensive’ but he’s actually creating more ways for immigrant communities to be deported…and treated like an exploitable, permanent underclass.”
Proponents of stricter immigration reform criticized Bush’s plan, claiming it offers “amnesty. “
The proposal is an alternative to immigration legislation introduced last month by Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Their bill offers a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants for $2,000 and would allow 400,000 guest workers annually who would also be eligible for citizenship.
“The (Gutierrez-Flake bill) is the first step but not the end result,” Trasviña said. “The President’s proposal is a step in the opposite direction.”
Others were more critical of the Gutierrez-Flake bill. Javier Rodríguez, a spokesperson of the March 25th Coalition, told Weekly Report that the bill would “keep immigrant groups vulnerable.”