The Bush administration is desperate for a victory somewhere -- anywhere -- and White House operatives are hoping that they may eke one out on an unlikely issue: immigration reform.
For weeks now, administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, have been meeting with Republican senators to try to put together legislation that will appease the party's immigration hardliners while still attracting enough bipartisan votes to assure passage. Details of the plan leaked out last week when Democrats finally got a look at the proposal -- and the reaction was, predictably, negative.
The heart of the administration's proposal is a new temporary workers program, something the country desperately needs if we are ever to stem the flow of illegal workers into the United States and still provide necessary workers in a full-employment economy. But as currently outlined, the plan will do nothing more than create a class of workers who will never assimilate into the mainstream of our society, much less become Americans.
The plan would not allow workers to bring their families with them, no matter how long they continued to work on renewable two-year permits. But increasing the number of young, unattached males in our society is a recipe for problems.
Families bring stability -- indeed, one of the reasons immigrants have low crime rates is that they are more likely to live in married, two-parent households with children than those who are native-born and of comparable socio-economic status. Instead of families who, after a time, would buy homes and start businesses and whose children would become the new Americans, we would have a permanent class of non-English-speaking workers with no ties to the communities in which they live and work.
And the proposal for dealing with the 12 million illegal aliens already living here isn't much better. On the positive side, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, who have consistently opposed amnesty for the 12 million, now seem ready to embrace a path toward legalization for those who are here. The plan would be to create a new visa -- dubbed the "Z," perhaps it will be the least desirable visa available -- that would be renewable in three-year increments for a $3,500 fee, on top of an $8,000 initial fine. These provisions are so draconian they would essentially make indentured workers out of the 12 million.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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