Image: Workers in Mexico doubtful about immigration plan
Dario Lopez-Mills  /  AP
Alejandro Chapa, left, and Ismael Gonzalez Cantu in the town of General Bravo, Mexico, express doubt over Bush's immigration plan.
updated 1/8/2004 11:08:33 AM ET 2004-01-08T16:08:33

President Bush's immigration proposal got a mostly cool response from those who grapple with the issue, with conservatives saying it goes too far, immigrant rights groups saying it doesn't go far enough and some Hispanic groups calling it a hollow electioneering ploy.

Many Republicans balked at the bureaucratic headaches ahead, and at the idea of rewarding illegal immigrants, while many of the very people Bush intends to help said the plan doesn't give them what they want: citizenship.

The president's temporary worker program unveiled Wednesday would offer undocumented workers who can show they have a job _ or a job offer for those still in their home countries _ an initial three-year work permit that would be renewable for an unspecified period.

Some immigrants were encouraged by the possibility of having some 8 million illegal foreign workers estimated to be in this country granted legal status and the protection of U.S. laws.

"From nothing to this, well, at least that's a good start," said Florencio Guzman Silva, a 60-year-old bricklayer from Mexico, who waited with 100 other people at a day labor center in Phoenix, Ariz.

'Political ploy'
But Lucas Benitez, one of the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents thousands of immigrants who work mostly in agriculture and in service sectors in Florida, questioned Bush's motives.

"It's a political ploy to get Hispanic votes, like in the 2000 presidential election," Benitez said. "The proposal only benefits the industries. It exploits the work force that has always been unprotected and it lowers the workers' salaries even more."

On the other end of the spectrum, David Ray, spokesman for the Washington-based Federation For American Immigration Reform, which advocates limits on immigration, argued that Bush's policies undermine American workers' wages and encourage illegal immigration.

"It's mind-boggling that in the midst of economic recovery with 9 million people jobless, President Bush would propose this," Ray said. "It's going to have a dire effect on wages for American families. It will cause huge displacement of American workers. We will witness how American jobs are given away right before our eyes."

The Bush administration - sensitive to conservatives who oppose any reward for those who broke the law when they entered the United States - said it is not proposing blanket amnesty for illegals and the program is not linked to the green card process, which grants citizenship.

Complicated issue
Some immigrant rights groups expressed disappointment at that omission, saying permanent citizenship should be extended to millions of hardworking, taxpaying immigrants and their family members.

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"What we need is comprehensive reform that includes a generous legalization component, labor rights protections and guarantees of family unification," the New Mexico-based group Somos Un Pueblo Unido said in a statement Wednesday.

Other observers focused on the implications for American businesses.

Josh Bernstein, director of federal policy for the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrants' rights, said while businesses will be more free to hire immigrant labor, they won't escape federal oversight and paperwork.

"This, in the long run, is more complicated to administer. It becomes more bureaucratic. That's going to undermine the whole intent of bringing people out from under the shadows. They'd feel it's a trap," he said.

Providing opportunities
But Cindy Ramos-Davidson, chief executive officer of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the proposals will help business owners fill service jobs that Americans don't want and help farmers who can't afford machines to harvest their crops.

"I am optimistic," she said, "about the possibilities this proposal could open up."

So was Jaime Moreno, a 28-year-old field worker from Guanajuato, Mexico, who said he almost drowned three years ago as he crossed the Rio Grande, part of a passage that cost him $640.

He now lives with his wife in the South Texas town of San Benito, and believes Bush's proposal will help immigrants if they no longer have to pay smugglers or undertake perilous crossings.

However, Moreno wishes the plan was broader.

"I'd want to have papers that are like real papers for work, that we could work wherever we want - instead of just a paper that lets me work in just one job and that's the only place," Moreno said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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