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Bush immigration plan now linked with increased border security

Dallas Morning News | June 22, 2005

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - The White House is placing new emphasis on border enforcement to improve the prospects for President Bush's plan to provide temporary guest worker status to illegal immigrants.

The new focus, Sen. John Cornyn and others say, is a result of what the White House has heard from key members of Congress: No immigration liberalization plan will pass without first tackling tougher enforcement.

"What's been missing in the discussion about immigration reform is a strong commitment to border security," said Cornyn, a Texas Republican who chairs the Senate immigration subcommittee. Cornyn predicted the White House would soon issue its priorities for border enforcement.

The White House wouldn't confirm any imminent announcement. Bush "is working closely with Congress on ways to build upon the steps we have taken to strengthen our border security, said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan. He noted that the Border Patrol is receiving funds to hire new agents and use new technologies to detect illegal crossings.

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved nearly $1 billion in new funds for border security and immigration and customs enforcement.

Yet a congressional panel on Tuesday highlighted a weakness that has allowed illegal immigration to explode to 11 million to 12 million people: lax interior enforcement.

Congressional investigators said the number of investigations of companies suspected of employing illegal immigrants has plummeted in recent years. Federal investigators went after only three companies last year - down from the 417 firms fined in 1999, the General Accountability Office said.

The administration's focus on border enforcement follows an acknowledgment by Bush this month to congressional leaders that he needs to do a better job selling his immigration plan.

Immigration liberalization advocates and foes alike agree that a tougher White House message on enforcement could provide momentum for immigration changes.

"If they are going to move forward and get something passed, they have to get the Republicans in a position where they are comfortable," said Michele Waslin with the National Council of La Raza, which is pressing to legalize illegal immigrants' status.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for Numbers USA, a group seeking to reduce illegal immigration, said: "On the House side, for sure, there is already a huge push towards enforcement. And I think those efforts will be made easier because they will at least in appearance have the White House's support."

The Bush guest worker plan would permit illegal immigrants to obtain permits to work here legally for up to six years before returning to their homeland. The plan has been criticized on both sides - conservatives insist it's an amnesty; immigrant-rights advocates complain it doesn't provide for legal permanent residence.

Cornyn and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., intend to introduce a bill in July that includes a temporary guest worker plan, the details of which are being finalized. The border enforcement component would authorize over five years 10,000 new Border Patrol agents, 1,000 new immigration inspectors and $2.5 billion for border security technologies.

A rival bill by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would provide guest workers a path to permanent residence, making them pay a $2,000 fee to legalize their status.


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