A Comprehensive Immigration Bill That Works

Although the left and right differ on just about every political issue, both agree that the current immigration situation does not work. Last year President George W. Bush made a proposal that seemed to have promise. The president’s plan would allow guest workers into the US if their services are needed. At the same time, undocumented workers already in the US could apply for temporary work permits.

Bush’s plan has gone nowhere. However, in May of this year, Senators John McCain and Edward Kennedy introduced a bill that reflects the broad principles outlined by the president.

The Secure and Orderly Immigration Act of 2005 (S. 1033 / H.R.2330) was introduced in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives. The measure is not perfect but it’s the best proposal on the horizon and the most likely of being passed.

The bill toughens border enforcement, creates a guest worker program, and allows for undocumented workers already in the US a way out of the shadows by encouraging them to apply for temporary work permits. It also provides an option down the road for legalizing their status.

There are about 10 million undocumented workers already in the US. These people would be motivated by the McCain-Kennedy bill to come forward without fear they’d be deported. Many of these people are already integrated into American life. They have mortgages, jobs, own businesses, and in some cases have kids who are US citizens.

In any event, it would be virtually impossible to round up 10 million people and deport them. Undocumented workers seeking temporary work permits would have to pay a fine of $1,000. They would have to work for six years before they could apply for permanent residency.

Workers outside the country would have to pay $500 and would have to prove that a job is waiting for them in the US to obtain temporary work permits. They would undergo background and medical checks.

After working for three years, they could ask for an extension and eventually apply for a green card. They would then have to pay an additional $1,000, study English, and be free of any criminal activity for six years before they could qualify for permanent residency.

Whether the workers came into the country illegally or through the new guest worker program, they would be required to undergo tough criminal background checks to obtain permanent residency.

The McCain-Kennedy bill also includes provisions for a high tech system that would allow employers to easily check the workers’ immigration status. This would stop people trying to get in with fake papers.

The bill is the best option to deal with the complex immigration issue. It’s a bipartisan measure which is the only hope for new legislation on immigration.

Neither the extreme left nor the extreme right is happy with it.

The left wants open borders and the right wants to shut them and deport the “illegals.”

The left does not like the guest worker component, seeing in it nothing but a revived failed “bracero” program which could easily lead to human rights violations.

The right sees nothing but the illegal act committed by the undocumented workers and considers anathema any discussion about the possibility of rewarding lawbreakers with permanent status.

President Bush’s approval rating is around 43%, according to a recent Associated Press poll. Thus he may not feel like he wants to get behind a potentially divisive issue which could sink his popularity even further.

But since he does not have to run for re-election he could afford to spend whatever little political capital he may have left on a plan which he has proposed and in many ways could take credit for.

Although Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, Bush needs Democratic support for his legislative agenda. In this case it’s there. Will he use it?

Domenico Maceri. PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA