Tops Political Agendas||
As the number of people slipping across the border into the United States continues
to grow, President Bush and Congress have offered different plans to deal with
the cost and security risk associated with illegal immigration.
America has often been conflicted in its dealings with immigrants.
the country has opened its arms to those seeking a
better life, as illustrated by the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty that
reads "From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; ... Give me your tired,
your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
But in the
late 1800s, the nation banned immigration from parts of Asia due largely to anti-Chinese
Now, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and with
money for government services like health care and education stretched thin, Americans
are approaching issues of immigration with a great deal of concern and caution.
illegal immigration problem|
Illegal immigrants, also known as undocumented aliens, most often cross the
southern border with Mexico without the documents necessary to legally work or
live in the United States.
Many immigrants work dangerous or unattractive
jobs, such as picking fruit or construction, for less money than legal workers.
work makes certain products in the United States cheaper, but it also costs American
taxpayers money because illegal immigrants don't have health insurance, and many
of their children need special services at school, such as English as a second
Most hospitals will not
turn away patients based on their immigration or insurance status and, in 1982,
the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny a public education
to illegal-immigrant children living in the U.S.
In addition to the cost
of illegal immigration, in the post-9/11 world, many officials worry that without
better monitoring of the border, terrorists could sneak into the country as easily
as those seeking work.
Some members of the House of Representatives have suggested radical solutions
such as building a fence along the entire border, or rounding up the 11 million
illegal immigrants and forcibly sending them back where they came from.
John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Edward Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts,
introduced a bill that works to tighten security at the borders, but also establishes
a guest worker program that gives the worker a legal status within the U.S. and
some hope of eventual citizenship.
In a recent speech in Arizona, President
Bush outlined his plan that calls for tough measures like tighter border security,
larger detention centers and tougher work place enforcement.
At the same
time, the president offered a "temporary worker" program to try to encourage
illegal immigrants to register to work in this country legally.
Bush defended his plan, saying America is a "compassionate nation" that
takes pride in our "immigrant heritage" and argued that, "[t]he
American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful
society. We can have both at the same time."
Temporary worker programs are not new. Currently there are two guest worker
visa programs, one for agriculture workers and another for skilled workers (invented
in 1990 in response to forecasts of labor shortages in the high tech industry.)
the plan President Bush has proposed, immigrants with a guest worker visa for
skilled labor can eventually become U.S. citizens.
Under Mr. Bush's proposed
plan, workers currently in the U.S. would first have to return to their home country
and apply with an American employer.
President Bush's hope is that by providing
an outlet for legal immigration, American business will have access to inexpensive
labor and pressure on the border will decrease.
Critics of the temporary
worker program, many from within President Bush's own party, contend that it amounts
to an "amnesty" or pardon for those already in the country who arrived
In addition, the plan allows for temporary workers to stay in
country for just six years, long enough to have children who would be American
At the end of six years, these immigrants would face the tough
choice of staying on as illegal immigrants unable to get a driver's license or
job, or return to the country they had already left.
With pressure building
to set stricter immigration rules, Congress and the president will have to balance
very different forces in a country still struggling with how to best deal with
Compiled by Anne Bell for NewsHour Extra