Herald Tribune - Jan 7, 2004
Many fear president's announcement an empty promise
By VANESSA PETIT
MIAMI Activists in immigrant-rich Florida are questioning the timing and motives of President Bush's proposal of an immigration reform plan that would let millions of undocumented workers apply for temporary work permits and eventually attain legal status.
While the plan is a step forward in immigration reform that has been sidetracked since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it is flawed, said Josh Bernstein, director of federal policy for the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrants' rights.
"I think that this announcement confirms that there is a broad agreement across all sectors that the status quo is untenable," he said. "We can't continue with the current situation of having so many people undocumented. It impacts other values in our society." But Bernstein believes that the actual proposal may be perceived as an immigration enforcement trap.
The plan would allow undocumented immigrants in the United States to apply for a temporary work permit after paying a fee for a three-year term that could be renewed. The White House is not saying how long the term could be extended or how many times it could be renewed.
The program would be open to prospective immigrants, but also to illegal immigrants in the U.S. - as long as they could prove that they have a job at the time the new policy becomes law.
Immigrants would eventually be able to apply for permanent residency and citizenship but would not receive any favorable treatment.
There are an estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S and at least 6 million of them form part of the working force.
David Skovholt, coordinator of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, an organization that helps promote immigrants' rights, estimated that in Florida there are approximately 700,000 undocumented immigrants.
"They live in our state and they contribute to our economies," he said. "They need to be brought out of the shadows so they can fully contribute to our communities. It's beneficial to our society."
David Ray, spokesman for the Washington-based Federation For American Immigration Reform, which advocates limits on immigration, argued that these policies undermine American workers' wages and encourage illegal immigration. "It's mind-boggling that in the midst of economic recovery with 9 million people jobless, President Bush would propose this," Ray said. "It's going to have a dire effect on wages for American families. It will cause huge displacement of American workers. We will witness how American jobs are given away right before our eyes."
Lucas Benitez, one of the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents thousands of immigrants who work mostly in agriculture and in service sectors in Florida, rejects the proposal. "It's a political ploy to get Hispanic votes, like in the 2000 presidential election," Benitez said. "The proposal only benefits the industries. It exploits the work force that has always been unprotected and it lowers the workers' salaries even more." (Associated Press)