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Schneider: Immigration plan may anger conservatives

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider
CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider

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Workers in the United States illegally can join a temporary labor program.

Those workers then can apply for permanent U.S. residency, but they will receive no preferential consideration.

Employers hiring these workers must show they cannot find U.S. laborers to fill the jobs.

These undocumented workers get guaranteed wage and employment rights.

These workers receive a temporary three-year visa, renewable once. They are expected to return to their countries once their visas expire.

Congress will be urged to increase the current annual limit of 140,000 green cards.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would administer the program.
On the Scene
Bill Schneider
George W. Bush
United States

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday proposed new immigration policy that would give illegal immigrants with U.S. jobs temporary worker status, possibly leading to permanent residency in the country.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider on Wednesday discussed reaction to Bush's proposal and its potential political impact with CNN's Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: Give us the bottom line here. How will this be received both by Democrats and by Republicans?

SCHNEIDER: Well, a lot of conservatives don't like this idea. They say, "Well, there's another strike by Bush against conservative principles." They don't like all of the spending going on, the huge mushrooming of the deficit and are suspicious of the Medicare reform bill with its big new expensive entitlement, and now he wants to turn illegal workers into guest workers with legal status.

They say that's rewarding people who have broken the law.

Democrats feel as if the president is trying to outbid them, and so what they're saying is, "We welcome the president back to the immigration debate, but our proposals can top his proposals." So there's a bidding war going on with Democrats.

COLLINS: If conservatives get mad, what will they do? What is their recourse?

SCHNEIDER: They gave plenty of problems to his father. Of course, then Pat Buchanan was running against his father in the primaries after he raised taxes, which one must acknowledge was a bigger deal to conservatives.

This president can make an argument on practicality -- the immigrants are already here, plus the fact that business interests favor temporary workers' status because they say these are low-wage foreign workers who take jobs that Americans don't want at wages that Americans would not accept.

There's another argument President Bush can make. This is a way of dealing with terrorism because if workers who are here in the United States illegally have temporary legal status, we'll be able to keep track of them.

If we grant these kinds of guest worker permits to people coming from other countries, we'll have a much better idea of who is actually in this country. So he can portray it as an anti-terrorism policy.

COLLINS: Well, let's talk about green cards then for a moment if we could. This proposal may also include increasing the number of green cards that are available. Will that be enough? Is this the incentive that some of the illegal immigrants need?

SCHNEIDER: It is a big issue. He'll have to increase the number of permanent resident status green cards to workers from overseas, because what he's inviting these workers who are here now illegally to do is apply for a guest worker permit, then after three years that expires. It may be renewable for three years. That hasn't been determined yet.

He is telling them they can apply for a green card, but there's no guarantee they'll get it before their temporary guest worker status expires.

So the risk they are taking is they apply for a green card, their guest status expires, and they're sent back home. A lot of people will say, "Wait a minute. We don't want to take that risk but rather continue working illegally."

COLLINS: Talk to us if you would about other countries that do this. Does it work for them?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it works in the sense that businesses do have a supply of low-wage workers in countries in Europe particularly, which have a very low birthrate and a shrinking work force. They need that labor and so does the United States.

The problem is they have all those guest workers who stay on and on and on, and some of them -- many of them -- stay on permanently; some of them remain illegal. Some of them are legal. Some of them become citizens.

But the fact is they don't get rid of them, [they] don't go home, and it's become a problem and source of racial and ethnic tension in virtually every country in Europe.

COLLINS: We've been hearing quite a bit about blanket amnesty, and the White House says that is not what this is. How is it not amnesty?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it is. It is a form of amnesty; it is not blanket amnesty because the workers are simply not given forgiveness for having broken the law. They have to prove that they have a job, and their employer has to come forward and say, "This person works for me. [It's] a legal job, even if the person is here illegally, and I'm willing to vouch for them."

A lot of union leaders say this gives employers an awful lot of power over the workers because the worker cannot apply for a temporary permit until the employer vouches for them, but that's the critical point. The employer has to say the person has a job, and I'm willing to vouch for that.

COLLINS: How much of this is about the vote in California or Texas?

SCHNEIDER: Well, those states are crucial because they have large numbers of Hispanic immigrants, and that's frankly where most of these immigrants come from. Sixty percent are estimated to have come from Mexico. They're an important vote in a number of key states.

You mentioned Texas and California. Texas is solidly Republican. California is solidly Democratic because of the large Hispanic vote, but then there's Florida.

Florida has a growing number of Hispanic immigrants, non-Cuban. They're voting in large numbers. They have tended to vote Democratic in recent elections -- 62 percent for Al Gore in 2000.

Bush and the Republicans believe they can get those voters over to the Republican side by showing that they're sensitive to their concerns.

They don't want to make the mistake Republicans made back in the '20s when an earlier wave came from Europe. Republicans didn't seem to be sensitive to them or sympathetic to them.

They joined Franklin Roosevelt's Democratic coalition, and the Democrats ruled this country with the majority for 50 years. Republicans don't want that to happen again.

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