Chertoff, Chao promote guest worker program
Cabinet secretaries outline Bush plan

Tuesday, October 18, 2005; Posted: 12:53 p.m. EDT (16:53 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Beefing up border patrols alone won't stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country, administration officials said Tuesday in promoting President Bush's proposal to set up a temporary worker program for foreign nationals.

"We're going to need more than just brute enforcement," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We're going to need a temporary worker program as well."

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao provided a general outline of the plan Bush introduced last year, emphasizing that undocumented workers accepted into the program would receive no advantages over immigrants in the country legally and that they would be required to return home after their work period ends.

"Those who come forward will not be offered an automatic pass to citizenship and should be expected to pay a substantial fine or penalty to participate in the temporary program," she said.

Under the president's plan, she said, guest workers would have to leave the country after three years, but could apply for a second three-year stint.

Tamper-resistant cards
She said they would be issued biometric, tamper-resistant cards that would allow them to cross U.S. borders during their stay.

GOP leaders in both the House and Senate have suggested that Congress should first take up the enforcement issue, putting off debate on the more complex issues of undocumented workers and the demand for low-skilled labor in this country.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said his panel, currently occupied with the Harriet Miers' Supreme Court nomination, would address comprehensive immigration reform. "It is a matter of very, very substantial urgency."

He cited one recent report that there are now more illegal immigrants in the country, often estimated at around 11 million, than legal immigrants.

Several members of the committee are sponsoring legislation that, in addition to strengthening border security and workplace enforcement, would set up guest worker programs.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has a bill that would provide visas for up to six years, after which the worker must either leave the country or be in the pipeline for a green card.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, have a rival bill that would require illegal aliens to return to their home countries to apply for the temporary worker program.

'Catch and release' policy
Chertoff also pledged to end the "catch and release" policy that has allowed tens of thousands of non-Mexican illegal aliens to disappear within the United States.

"Return every single illegal entrant -- no exceptions," Chertoff said in prepared testimony to the committee.

Chertoff said that the nearly 900,000 Mexicans who are caught entering United States every year are returned immediately to Mexico, "but other parts of the system have nearly collapsed under the weight of numbers."

Chertoff said that in the just-concluded budget year 120,000 of the 160,000 non-Mexican nationals apprehended by the Border Patrol were released, often on their own recognizance, because there is no place to hold them. "That is unacceptable and we are going to change that immediately."

Chertoff said it is should be possible to achieve significant progress in reversing that policy in less than a year, noting that his department's budget for fiscal 2006 includes $90 million in new money to add hundreds of beds. He said his agency also plans to expand use of an expedited removal program that could cut the average time in detention from 90 to 45 days.

The Cabinet officials emphasized that the president strongly opposed an amnesty for illegal aliens, and Chertoff agreed with Kennedy that trying to deport all illegal immigrants would not be possible. "It would take billions and billions and billions of dollars to do it," Chertoff said.

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