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25 April 2006

Bush supports guest-worker proposals

President Bush has urged Democrats and Republicans to come together to adopt a middle-ground policy on immigration, whilst declaring his support for the implementation of a guest-worker programme.

Speaking in Orange County, he called a Senate bill, which creates a way for illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States and for many to eventually become citizens, an "important approach."

Under the proposal, illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States for five years or more would eventually be granted citizenship, provided they stayed employed, had background checks, paid fines and back taxes and learned English.

Those in the country for two to five years would have to move to a border crossing and apply for a temporary worker visa. They would be eligible for citizenship over time, but would have to wait longer than the first group.

Workers in the country less than two years would be required to leave the country. They could apply for the temporary work programme, but would not be guaranteed positions.

The bill before the Senate would tighten border security and give many illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, while the House of Representatives has passed legislation that further criminalizes illegal entry into the United States.

Current estimates put the illegal immigrant population in the US at around 12m and the immigration debate has caused deep divisions over how to deal with the problem of controlling the borders whilst still having access to a cheap labour force. The last few months have seen large rallies in major American cities, both for and against immigration reform.

Bush ruled out a mass deportation program for illegal immigrants, most of whom just return to the country anyway, and does support a path to legalisation as long as these immigrants don't get ahead of people already waiting to immigrate legally.

‘I know this is an emotional debate,’ Bush said. ‘But one thing we cannot lose sight of is that we're talking about human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect. Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It's just not going to work.

‘I believe that a person should never be granted automatic citizenship. If you've been here, broken the law and have been here working, then it doesn't seem fair to me to say you're automatically a citizen when somebody who has been here legally working is standing in line trying to become a citizen, as well. In other words, there's the line for people.

‘But what I do think makes sense is that a person ought to be allowed to get in line. In other words, pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system and get in the back of the line.

‘In other words, there is a line of people waiting to become legal through the green card process. And it's by nationality. And if you're a citizen here who has been here illegally, you pay a penalty, you learn English, and you get in line, but at the back not the front.

'And if Congress wants a shorter line for a particular nationality, they increase the number of green cards. If they want a longer line, they shrink the number of green cards per nationality’

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