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CAMPAIGN-IMMIGRATION Sep-8-2004 (1,130 words) Backgrounder. With logos posted March 10 and photo posted Sept. 8. xxxn

Campaign '04: Immigration plans, unformed ideas set Kerry, Bush apart

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As with many aspects of U.S. policy, the government's actions and public attitudes about immigration have been through dramatic changes since the last presidential election.

President George W. Bush and his Democratic rival for the White House, Sen. John F. Kerry, both recognize that the broad umbrella of immigration issues includes everything from border security to international development and keeping business interests happy.

But there are distinct differences in how clear the two candidates have been about addressing what's under that umbrella.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' election-year document, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," calls people to care for those in need whether or not they have legal documentation.

"While affirming the right and responsibility of sovereign nations to control their borders and to ensure the security of their citizens, especially in the wake of Sept.11, we seek basic protections for immigrants, including due process rights, access to basic public benefits, and fair naturalization and legalization opportunities," the bishops said. "We oppose efforts to stem migration that do not effectively address its root causes and permit the continuation of the political, social and economic inequities that contribute to it. We believe our nation must remain a place of refuge for those fleeing persecution and suffering exploitation -- refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking."

The document also says the country should adopt a more generous immigration and refugee policy, including a legalization program, and encourages "addressing the root causes of migration."

Angela Kelley, director of programs for the National Immigration Forum, whose member organizations include the USCCB, said Kerry has been clear about his immigration intentions.

Kerry said he would offer "a comprehensive immigration reform bill within the first 100 days" in office; sign several pending bills he has supported in the Senate; and work with neighboring countries to address border security and causes of migration.

Meanwhile, Bush's immigration agenda from four years ago remains in limbo and his campaign has been short on details of new plans.

Kelley said that even after four years in office Bush has been far less clear than Kerry about how he intends to address specific immigration problems.

In the first eight months of the Bush administration, Kelley and other immigrant advocates thought they had an ally in efforts to create more welcoming U.S. immigration policies.

In the summer of 2001 Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox held talks aimed at making the U.S.-Mexican border more open, including the possibility of a program to legalize the status of some of the millions of people living in the United States without proper visas.

Public polls showed strong support for reversing some of the restrictive changes in welfare and immigration law passed in the mid-1990s and Bush seemed willing to follow through.

But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, immigration reform discussions ground to a halt. Legislation that had seemed sure to pass sat untouched through one, then two, and now nearly three years in Congress.

Security concerns took priority over easier border-crossing procedures. Entering the United States became more difficult for everyone from refugees to scholars.

This January, Bush announced the framework of a plan under which U.S. employers would be permitted to bring in foreign workers and their family members on a temporary basis to fill jobs not being taken by U.S. citizens or legal residents. At least some of the more than 8 million illegal immigrants already in the country would be allowed to legalize their status.

But, Kelley said, "he's done basically nothing on immigration since then, except stand in the way of the AgJOBS bill."

The Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act has languished in Congress, despite support in both parties as well as from unions, business interests, immigrant advocates and religious organizations. The White House reportedly asked Senate leaders to hold the bill up out of concern that its passage might antagonize certain segments of voters because of its legalization provisions.

The bill would permit any undocumented agricultural worker who can show evidence of having worked at least 100 days in a certain period to obtain temporary legal status. Workers who put in 360 days in agriculture over the next six years could get permanent residency. It also would allow undocumented workers to count nonagriculture jobs toward legalization.

Kerry has said he would sign AgJOBS, as well as another pending bill, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act. It would permit minors who are in the country illegally to attend college and legalize their status.

Bush says in campaign stops that he wants an immigration policy which recognizes that "people who come from countries like Mexico to work -- they're coming to make a living, and they're filling jobs that, frankly, others won't do. It seems like to me that we ought to have a policy that's open and honest about this phenomena."

But Kelley notes that Bush's January announcement hasn't been followed up by any legislation.

Besides support for AgJOBS and DREAM, Kerry's immigration agenda calls for allowing undocumented workers who have been in the country at least five years and meet other criteria to have a path to citizenship. He said he would eliminate the years-long backlogs in processing immigration applications, establish a temporary worker program that protects the rights of immigrants and negotiate accords with neighboring countries to improve security along the borders.

The Republican and Democratic parties' platforms both address the topic in terms that recognize the contribution of immigrants to U.S. society.

Both contain language that encourages a plan to permit illegal immigrants to legalize their status somehow. They differ in emphasis, however.

"Today's immigration laws do not reflect our values or serve our security," said the Democratic platform. "The solution is not to establish a massive new status of second-class workers; that betrays our values and hurts all working people."

It goes on to say undocumented immigrants who pass a background check, work and pay taxes should have a path to "full participation in America," and that the party will hasten family reunification and work with neighboring countries to improve security.

The Republican platform focuses on bringing in guest workers to fill labor needs and allowing participants to "come out of the shadows and to participate legally in America's economy." It calls for strong workplace enforcement of immigration laws, and says "we oppose amnesty because it would have the effect of encouraging illegal immigration and would give an unfair advantage to those who have broken our laws."

The section concludes by praising recent border enforcement efforts, including the Border Patrol's "sweeping new powers to deport illegal aliens without having first to go through the cumbersome process of ... a hearing before an immigration judge."


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