[Washington, D.C. - Raul Yzaguirre, President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization, offered this reaction today to President Bush's announcement on immigration policy:]
Hispanic Americans are extremely disappointed with the President's announcement today on immigration policy, which appears to offer the business community full access to the immigrant workers it needs while providing very little to the workers themselves. This represents a major departure from the Administration's posture when they initiated this debate in 2001. This is a bitter disappointment to Latinos who were excited by the President's apparent willingness two years ago to consider creating a path to permanent legal status for undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States.
The President's proposal is limited to creating a potentially huge new guestworker program for immigrant workers with no meaningful access to permanent visas or a path to citizenship for those working, paying taxes, and raising their families in the United States. Immigrants would be asked to sign up for what is likely to be second-class status in the American workforce, which could lead to their removal when their status expires or is terminated. Labor rights for temporary workers have historically been weaker than those afforded to workers in the domestic labor force. Under this proposal, workers would be vulnerable during their temporary status, and even more vulnerable when it expires, which would also have a negative impact on wages and working conditions for their U.S.-born co-workers.
The timing of this proposal at the beginning of an election year after more than two years of silence on the issue suggests that the White House intends to appeal to Latino voters by purporting to establish broad and generous access to legal status. The details of the proposal, however, reveal that this is at best an empty promise, and at worst a political ploy aimed at vulnerable immigrants and those of us who care deeply about them. If President Bush is serious about moving a reform agenda forward, we are prepared to work with him, but we will insist on reforms that fully respect the many contributions that immigrants make to this country by putting immigrants on a path to permanent status. Until then, we believe that Latinos will judge the President on his actions, not simply his words.