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IN THE NEWS - Bush Proposes Temporary Worker Program - 2004-01-09

Broacast: January 10, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

President Bush has proposed a temporary worker program for millions of people illegally in the United States. He announced the plan Wednesday at the White House. The United States is estimated to have at least eight-million illegal immigrants from Mexico and other countries. Immigration policy has been an area of tension between the United States and Mexico.

President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox appeared close to an agreement in September of two-thousand-one. Then came the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, which increased concern about border controls.

The Department of Homeland Security would operate the temporary worker program. Mister Bush says all who take part must have a job -- or, if not living in the United States, a job offer.

Those approved for the program would not be punished for entering the country or working illegally. Workers would also be free to travel between the United States and their home countries. And they would have the same legal protections as American workers.

The temporary work permits would be good for three years and could be renewed. But President Bush says the program would have an end. Then, workers would be expected to return home unless they had been approved for citizenship under the normal process.

President Bush says the reform plan is important for the economy and national security. He says it will help establish more control of the border.

Business groups say the plan would create a strong workforce and reduce labor shortages. But labor unions say it would take jobs away from American workers. President Bush says the plan will require employers to make every effort to find an American worker first.

Some Mexican officials have expressed support for the plan. But immigrant rights activists are unhappy that it will not lead to citizenship. The plan is the president's first legislative proposal of this election year. It is widely described as an attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters.

White House officials invited about two-hundred Latino supporters to attend the announcement. Hispanics are now the largest ethnic group in the United States. People of Spanish-speaking ancestry are about thirteen percent of the population.

The plan requires approval from Congress. Some lawmakers from Mister Bush's own Republican Party are expected to criticize the idea. Conservatives say it pardons illegal immigration and illegal employment.

President Bush says the plan does not represent forgiveness. And, he says, it will not be unfair to people who have followed the legal process.

President Bush and President Fox are expected to discuss the plan at the Summit of the Americas meeting next week in Monterrey, Mexico.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.