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05 October 2006

US: Bush pushes guest worker programme

President George W Bush has reiterated his intention to introduce a guest worker programme to the United States after signing a law on Wednesday to build a fence along more than 1,100 kilometers of the border with Mexico to deter illegal immigration.

The controversial fence is part of a broader national security bill aimed at improving border and port security and enforcing immigration controls. The decision has drawn criticism from Mexico, who see it as an affront to their own efforts to agree on immigration reforms with Washington, and environmentalists concerned about the impact in impenetrable barrier will have on animal migrations.

Under the bill, the number of border patrol agents will increase by 50 per cent to 18,000 by 2008, and updated technology including radar and infrared sensors will be deployed to spot people crossing the border illegally. Also an additional 6,700 new beds will be added to detention centres.

The bill authorizes $1.2 billion to be spent during the current fiscal year for the building of fences and barriers, and is just a small part of a $33.8 billion package.

Bush is insistent that securing the border alone will not solve America's problems with illegal immigration, nor will it help the thousands of businesses who rely on cheap migrant labour to function, and pushed his guest worker programme again.

"The funds that Congress has appropriated are critical to our efforts to secure this border and enforce our laws," he said.

"Yet we must also recognize that enforcement alone is not going to work. We need comprehensive reform that provides a legal way for people to work here on a temporary basis."

In a Senate bill that has yet to draw universal support, the guest worker proposals would legalise an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who could also eventually earn legal permanent residency.

Other proposals would also provide up to 325,000 temporary visas a year for future workers, with additional visas possible based on labor market demands. New ID cards for legal foreign workers, to include biometric technology, would allow employers to verify they were hiring legal workers.