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Bush to Announce Immigration Reform Plan - 2004-01-07

President Bush is preparing to announce a new immigration program that could have an impact on millions of immigrants now in the United States illegally.

The president will announce a new temporary worker program. The goal is to match up people from other countries looking for work with U.S. employers who can not find Americans to fill available jobs.

The millions of illegal immigrants who are already in the United States will be eligible for the program. But senior administration officials stress the president is not proposing an amnesty for those who came to America illegally.

These officials say participants in the temporary worker program will not automatically receive permanent residency status. They will simply be able to work in the United States for a certain period of time before returning to their homelands.

Many details of the proposal must still be worked out with the U.S. Congress, where there is significant opposition to any effort that seems to reward illegal immigrants.

Anticipating a possible tough sell in the legislature, the White House is framing the president's initiative as an economic measure, one that will help employers fill vacant low-level jobs. Officials also note that illegal immigrants who become temporary legal workers will be paying taxes, and contributing to the nation's economic growth.

No one is sure exactly how many illegal immigrants are in the United States at the moment, though most estimates are in the eight to ten million range. Officials involved in drafting the president's proposal say there is room for all of them in the temporary worker program if enough jobs become available.

They say workers who participate in the program are not precluded from applying for permanent residency or a green card. But these officials make clear participants will have no advantage over would-be immigrants applying from abroad.

Mexico has been pushing hard for the United States to adopt some sort of temporary worker program, and the announcement from the White House comes just days before President Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox. They will confer on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Mexican city of Monterrey next week.

The announcement should help repair relations with Mexico that were strained by the war in Iraq and other matters. The temporary worker program is also likely to be welcomed by Hispanic voters who could play an important role in this year's presidential election in the United States.