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Eight million illegal immigrants may get legal status in US

About eight million illegal immigrants living and working in the US will be able to get legal status without any penalty under a proposal made by George Bush.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2004 20:03 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

About eight million illegal immigrants living and working in the US will be able to get legal status without any penalty under a proposal made by President George W. Bush.

Announcing the sweeping changes in the current US immigration laws, Bush Wednesday said the new temporary worker programme would make US immigration more compassionate by matching US employers with undocumented workers already in the US or those who want to find work here.

With this announcement, Bush will make immigration reform the first significant policy issue of 2004, a presidential election year. It will be introduced officially just five days before a special January 12-14 summit of the Americas.

Under the proposal, undocumented (illegal) workers currently employed in the US will be able to gain legal status for three years, with an opportunity for the stay to be renewed for a time not yet determined.

"As a nation that values immigration, and depends on immigration, we should have immigration laws that work and make us proud; yet today we do not," Bush said in a speech in the East Room of the White House attended by some 200 people, including members of his cabinet, Congress and the diplomatic corps, and leaders of groups devoted to issues of concern to the Hispanic and immigrant community.

The president's plan is expected to face Congressional opposition from members of his own party, according to official sources.

"Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling," Bush said.

He said the legal status granted by the new programme would last three years and would be renewable, but it would have an end.

The new programme, he said, "expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the US has expired, and there should be financial incentives for them to do so".

Bush said he would work with other governments "on a plan to give temporary workers credit, when they enter their own nation's retirement system, for the time they have worked in America".

Bush said he would also support making it easier for temporary workers to contribute a portion of their earnings to tax-preferred savings accounts, money they can collect as they return to their native countries.

They would be free to travel between the US and their home countries without penalty and would receive all US employee benefits including minimum wage, workplace safety standards and legal protections. They would pay taxes, qualify for federal retirement savings and be eligible for driver's licenses in most states.

He said he opposed amnesty for temporary workers in the US. If temporary workers wish to become US citizens, he said, they would have to apply in the normal way for that, but they "will not be given unfair advantage over people who have followed legal procedures from the start."

Noting the contribution made by immigrants, Bush said that "during one great period of immigration -- between 1891 and 1920 -- our nation received some 18 million men, women and children from other nations. The hard work of these immigrants helped make our economy the largest in the world".

"One of the primary reasons America became a great power in the 20th century is because we welcomed the talent and the character and the patriotism of immigrant families.

"About 14 percent of our nation's civilian workforce is foreign-born. Most begin their working lives in America by taking hard jobs and clocking long hours in important industries. Many immigrants also start businesses, taking the familiar path from hired labour to ownership," Bush said.

Press Secretary Scott McClellan said at a briefing: "The president has long talked about the importance of having an immigration policy that matches willing workers with willing employers. It's important for America to be a welcoming society. We are a nation of immigrants, and we're better for it."

Bush's plan is nearly identical to a bill introduced in July by Arizona Republican Representatives Jeff Flake and Jim Kolbe, and Senator John McCain. That bill has garnered seven co-sponsors in the House and one co-sponsor in the Senate.

First Published: Jan 08, 2004 20:03 IST