WASHINGTON – Immigrants and their lobbyists are cautious to embrace President Bush's proposal to give immigrants temporary legal status based on their employment.
“I expected he would announce something much better,” said Manuel Gutierras in an interview in Spanish Thursday. “Instead,he threw us bones,the least possible.”
Gutierras,31,is a Honduras native who works as a cashier at a downtown cafeteria here. He has a temporary work visa.
He said he sees no benefits for immigrants to join the proposed new temporary worker program,which would grant them legal status for three years. The proposal does not give participants an advantage in attaining citizenship.
“It seems like a lie,” he said. “What happens after three years? They give you the boot and send you back to your homeland? Immigrants are here because they want to be here. They're not going to leave after three years.”
But because the program would document the undocumented,overstaying a permit would be tough,especially if immigrants' addresses are registered. For that reason,Gutierras said he doesn't think many immigrants will bother joining.
The program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work has expired. It offers some financial incentives for them to do so,including transferred Social Security benefits and access to tax-preferred savings accounts.
Jorge E. Figueredo,executive director of the Hispanic Committee of Virginia,a Latino aid group,said at least the proposal “puts this issue on the table.”
He said the legal recognition “will allow undocumented immigrants who are living in the shadows to come out. Since 9-11 there has been an anti-immigrant sentiment and environment that has left many immigrants disenfranchised.”
This was one of Bush's main points as well. He said undocumented workers often “end up in the shadows of American life – fearful,often abused and exploited” and don't leave the country to visit relatives to avoid losing their jobs.
But Figueredo's main concern is that the proposal doesn't help participants get green cards,which confer permanent residency.
“It negates the opportunity to these hardworking people to get on a path to get citizenship,” he said. “We hope our legislature at the federal level will be able to recognize the many gaps that this proposal has and will be able to make it stronger and better.”
Meanwhile,organizations like the National Immigration Forum worry that the proposal is merely a political move to win Hispanic votes in November. In the last election,Bush won only 35 percent of the Hispanic vote.
“Immigrant and Latino voters are sophisticated enough to distinguish hollow politics from actual process,” said Frank Sharry,the forum's executive director,in a press release.
“Immigration reform is a defining issue for the fastest-growing segment of the American electorate,and unless Bush's effort is sincere,sustained and substantive it won't garner political allegiance among immigrant and Latino voters,” Sharry said.