Immigration Measure Introduced

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005; A08

A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress yesterday seeks to revise the current immigration system by allowing millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to apply to be temporary guest workers and permit residents of other countries to seek the same status if they can prove that a job is waiting for them.

The new visa program proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) would allow immigrant workers to leave and enter the United States as they please over the three-year life of the temporary visa.

McCain said current immigration policy is "unacceptable," in part because it forces Mexican nationals and others illegally seeking to enter the United States to rely on human smugglers or risk their lives crossing the desert alone.

In addition, he said, porous borders are "leaving Americans vulnerable" to terrorism.

The bill almost certainly faces a fight from Republicans who recently rejected amnesty proposals and this week helped win passage of the Real ID Act, which makes it more difficult for illegal immigrants to obtain federally recognized identification.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a leading proponent of removing illegal immigrants, said the legislation is another form of amnesty. "There might be a little more lipstick on this pig than there was before," he said, "but it is most certainly the same old pig. Time and time again, history has shown us that amnesty actually increases illegal immigration."

Under the bill, millions of illegal workers and immigrants who want jobs in the United States could eventually gain citizenship. Illegal workers in the United States would pay $1,000 each to apply for H-5B visas that would require them to work for six years before seeking permanent residency. Foreign nationals would pay $500 each and would have to prove that an employer has a job waiting for them. Both would be required to pass a battery of police background and medical checks.

After working for three years, foreign national visa-holders could ask for three-year extensions and, in the meantime, apply for green cards. If the illegal immigrants continue working, pay an additional $1,000, study English and break no laws for six years, they could qualify for permanent residency. Ultimately, that could lead to full citizenship. In the meantime, visa-holders could leave and enter the United States legally.

McCain said he asked the Bush administration to embrace the proposal. The senator said he did not get a firm answer, but was told that the bill is "in accord with the president's principles."

In January, Bush called for a better program for illegal workers, saying that the United States "values immigration, and depends on immigration," and should enact immigration laws "that . . . make us proud."

Judy Golub, senior director of advocacy and public affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said her organization favors the bill. "It'll create an enforceable system," Golub said. "Right now, we don't have an enforceable system. Not only is it not working, but we can't afford it."

Rosemary Jenks, director of government affairs for Numbers USA, which advocates reducing the illegal-immigrant population, said her group "would support an exit amnesty, like a tax amnesty, that would allow illegal immigrants to leave and not apply a ban on future reentry."

Jenks said the government should force employers to verify that workers are legal or face charges themselves. McCain, Kennedy and other supporters said those measures have not worked.