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A look at the mess created for conservatives by President Bush's amnesty proposal.

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Plan For Immigration Reform Dismays Many Conservatives

A look at the mess created for conservatives by President Bush’s amnesty proposal.

Conservatives generally reacted with dismay to the new immigration reform plan that President Bush outlined in a White House speech January 7. The proposal has four main planks: 1) granting three-year work visas to millions of illegal aliens now working in the country, 2) allowing employers to import an unlimited number of additional foreign workers as long as they make a “good faith” effort to hire Americans first, 3) allowing aliens working in the United States to receive credit in their nations’ retirement systems or giving them tax-preferred savings accounts they can collect when they return home, and 4) increasing the number of aliens allowed to legally and permanently immigrate to the United States. Illegal aliens who get three-year work visas would be eligible to apply for permanent status (and eventual citizenship) on the same basis as aliens back in their home country who did not break U.S. immigration laws. “The people of eastern North Carolina who are God-fearing protectors of the Constitution believe, as I believe, that no one should be rewarded for breaking the law,” Rep. Walter Jones (R.-N.C.) told HUMAN EVENTS. “You can disguise it any way you want, it’s still amnesty.” “Eagle Forum will not support any member of Congress who votes for this, or for amnesty in any form,” said Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, who challenged the proposal on both public policy and political grounds. “Hispanics vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and I don’t understand how bringing in more of them helps the Republican Party,” she said. “There are probably five billion people in the world who would like to be American workers. Are we going to take workers from Iraq and Iran?” NumbersUSA, an immigration reform group, estimates that up to 75% of the eight-to-12 million illegal aliens in the country could be eligible for three-year work visas under Bush’s plan. “This is a self-inflicted political landmine,” said K.B. Forbes, a Latino conservative who served as communications director for Steve Forbes‘ (no relation) 2000 presidential campaign and now runs a non-partisan Hispanic advocacy group in East Los Angeles. “Illegal aliens don’t vote,” said Forbes. “The Hispanics who vote are second- and third-generation who are tired of being lumped in with the others.” “I think that for the first time, he may have come up with something that may seriously endanger his base,” said Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich. “This is a way that terrorists can get into the country, legally and everything,” he said. “As we speak, our borders are being inundated with people who think they might get an amnesty,” said Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus. Tancredo predicted the plan would not pass the House and contested the President’s suggestion that America’s current immigration laws are the cause of the immigration crisis. “Mr. President,” he said, “the executive branch has chosen not to enforce the law.” Some conservatives, however, do support the proposal. “I’m very pleased,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.), who along with Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Rep. Jim Kolbe (R.-Ariz.) introduced a guest worker bill last year. “It’s close to what we introduced.” “Over the past decade, we have increased funding for border enforcement by sixfold and we haven’t managed to stop anyone who really wants to come,” added Flake. “In the aggregate, if you look over the past decade, we’ve had massive immigration, both legal and illegal, and wages have risen in all sectors.” Rep. Chris Cannon (R.-Utah), who also supports the plan, said that as of now we don’t know who the illegal aliens are. “This plan will bring them out of the shadows,” he said. “We will have their fingerprints and photos.” However, he said, more details on “controlling the border” need to be worked out before the plan can advance. Cannon also cited the retirement provisions in the plan as giving aliens “incentives to go home. They will be able to transfer their retirement accounts to Mexico.” Conservatives, he said, must look at the alternatives: “Are we ever really going to send all these illegal residents home? If not, we should get them under the law and weed out the bad ones.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) praised the President for his concern for illegal immigrants but said, “I think his proposals will not serve the best interests of the American people.” Rohrabacher argued that the proposal frames the labor issue incorrectly. “I don’t think there are any jobs that Americans won’t do,” he said, “there are jobs that don’t pay enough for Americans to do now. The proposal the President is making would tend to keep down wages.” He also noted that unforeseen expenses could result from importing more foreign workers. “Are these jobs all going to have health care associated with them?” he asked. “If not, are we going to pay for health care for all these people? . . . The people who vote Republican are not going to like this.” “It’s nauseating, to be honest with you,” said conservative commentator and political consultant Don Feder. “I didn’t vote for Bush to get this.” Rep. John Shadegg (R.-Ariz.) said that he might consider Bush’s ideas, but only if we secure the border first. “The President mentioned a 40% increase in the Border Patrol, but it’s not working,” he said. “In Arizona, where I live, the border is completely out of control. [Securing it] must be done first.” “For whatever reason, the federal government hasn’t enforced the laws on the books,” said Rep. J. D. Hayworth (R.-Ariz.). “The President talked about giving illegal aliens proper documents. Does that include Social Security cards and driver’s licenses? With the motor voter law, that could cause problems. This is a Pandora’s box.” Under Bush’s plan, he said, “It will be the policy of the United States to provide an endless supply of cheap labor. It virtually ensures a permanent economic underclass. It raises questions about education, health care. What about the people who are trying to leave welfare for work? Don’t we want to help them?”

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Mr. D'Agostino, former associate editor of HUMAN EVENTS, is vice president for Communications at the Population Research Institute.

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