October 29, 2004

Different Candidates, Different Views of the Border

By Jessica Chandler

As the tightest and most heated of presidential election races gets underway, one of the biggest issues of the 2004 election is immigration.

President George W. Bush got a head start on shaking up the immigration ticket and courting Latino voters early this year with his controversial immigration worker program.

The backbone of Bush’s immigration reform is his temporary worker program. Bush proposes to allow eight million undocumented workers to register to work for three years, as long as they are employed and the employers have proven they can’t hire Americans to do the same job. Workers may be asked to return after three years — that is, work offers may be renewable — but the program would not automatically put a worker on the path to citizenship or permanent resident status. Bush does not endorse amnesty for illegal immigrants currently working in the United States.

Bush has also created a plan to streamline the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS). His plan would cut the time it takes to process an immigrant application to an average of six months, compared to the present 1-2 years. He proposes dividing the ICE into two agencies: one to process applications and naturalization services, and the other to deal with border protection and interior enforcement. Bush says that splitting the two will provide a friendlier and better functioning immigration system.

John Kerry takes a different approach. In contrast to Bush’s temporary worker program, Kerry wants to see an earned immigration status program. Under Kerry’s proposed plan, undocumented workers who have been working illegally in the United States for five or more years could achieve “earned legalization” status. By passing a health and background check, these longstanding illegal immigrants would become American citizens without waiting. Border patrol and law enforcement would be stepped up to limit future access for undocumented workers and, as Kerry says, to stem the huge influx of illegal crossings and to award workers who have contributed to the U.S. economy.

Earned legalization is one part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill that Kerry proposes issuing within 100 days of taking office. This reform bill proposes four key elements: earned legalization, reuniting families, a visa program with worker protections, and stronger border securities.

Amnesty is also part of Kerry’s overall package on immigration reform. He supports efforts to restore full benefits to legal immigrants, which were lost in 1996 welfare reform. Although he opposes drivers licenses for illegal immigrants, Kerry wants to return benefits such as welfare, health care and various other programs to legal immigrants.

Kerry also endorses The DREAM Act. This legislation would allow undocumented young people to get financial aid and scholarships for college, as well as qualify for in-state tuition instead of the out-of state tuition they currently pay. It would also legalize their status if they are in college.

With more and more Latinos joining the armed forces, Kerry wants the naturalization process for legal permanent residents serving in the Armed Forces to be expedited, waiving the naturalization filing fee, and allowing armed service members to naturalize overseas.

With more than one million new Latino voters expected to participate in the November election, there will be a heavy push for the Latino favor. Education and information about the presidential candidates and their proposals are more important than ever.

Voters will also have to decide whether to support the two-party system. This year, two alternative choices for president include the Independent ticket, fronted by Ralph Nader, and Green Party candidate David Cobb.

Nader, an Arab-American and his running mate Peter Camejo, a Latino, have stated in campaign materials that while they don’t want to criminalize the border, they do not want an open border either. Nader does not support amnesty, viewing it as a green light for illegal crossings. Instead he supports a Canadian-style temporary permit system for workers performing seasonal jobs. He also supports fair-labor standards for immigrant workers regardless of documentation status, and wants to grant these individuals all the rights and benefits of U.S. workers. Additionally, Nader wants to reform policies governing the transition from Limited Duration Admissions (LDA) to permanent immigration status, and wants to pay particular attention to these LDA provisions in trade negotiations. He is also are in favor of drivers licenses for undocumented workers.

Represented by candidate David Cobb, the Green Party has traditionally been a strong supporter of immigrant rights, opposing English-only legislation and racial profiling. Cobb and the party support permanent border passes for Mexican and Canadian citizens whose identity can be traced and verified. The Greens also support full wages and health benefits to immigrant workers who make voluntary contributions to pension plans and Social Security. The party also wants temporary worker programs to offer an option for permanent residency and include provisions for protecting worker savings.

Reprinted from El Tecolote, Oct 28, 2004

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