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La Raza president: Bush immigration proposal 'falls far short'

Raul Yzaguirre
Raul Yzaguirre

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's announcement Wednesday of new immigration guidelines, including a new temporary worker program, drew mixed reactions.

One person who expressed disappointment was Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. He spoke to CNN's Heidi Collins shortly after Bush's speech.

YZAGUIRRE: I thought the president was brilliant and magnificent in terms of defending our tradition of immigration. He was compassionate and compelling.

Unfortunately, the proposals that he is making to the Congress don't embody that compassion. When you strip it down, what he's saying, it amounts to nothing more than a warmed-over Bracero program, unfortunately.

COLLINS: Why do you say that?

YZAGUIRRE: Well, what we're talking about is simply giving temporary work permits to either people who are already here or people who will come in. And that is not very different than what we had in the '40s, '50s and '60s, a program called Bracero program, where we imported temporary workers and abused their rights. And we saw endemic patterns of abuses that we all are ashamed of.

COLLINS: You say that this also exposes the worker to possible deportation when the green card or the temporary card runs out.

YZAGUIRRE: Precisely.

You are asking people who are undocumented to come forward, declare the fact that they're undocumented, and then expose themselves to possible, perhaps even probable, deportation after a period of time. It is no pathway to legalization, to earned legalization, to regularization of their status. And it falls far short of what we had talked about before the September the 11th incident.

COLLINS: But the plan does provide incentives to go back to their home country, possibly starting their own business and supporting their families in their own country. It offers them retirement benefits and some new tax savings accounts. Isn't that different than what was offered before?

YZAGUIRRE: No. As a matter of fact, the Bracero program also had a savings provision, which, in fact [was] not lived up to.

But it still amounts to sugarcoating what is not a particularly generous proposition. It's not one that's likely to attract a lot of people coming forth.

COLLINS: Mr. Yzaguirre, what were you hoping the president would offer?

YZAGUIRRE: We were hoping that he would keep his promises to offer comprehensive immigration reform that would include, indeed, perhaps a temporary worker program, but that the heart of it would be earned legalization, a pathway, so that people who are currently paying taxes, subsidizing our Social Security system, improving our standard of living, would have an opportunity to do what millions of other Americans -- other immigrants have done, become American citizens.

COLLINS: What will happen now, in your eyes?

YZAGUIRRE: It's hard to tell.

You know, we don't have a specific proposal. We have a series of concepts and broad strokes. The fact that it comes so late in the legislative calendar makes it very difficult to expect that it will pass Congress this year. So, it may be no more than a political gesture to earn the vote of the Hispanic community.

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