Live

Watch CBSN Live

Skepticism Over Bush Migrant Plan

President Bush's plan to grant work permits to migrants who have American jobs could lead to a more diverse workforce. It has already garnered a diverse array of skeptics and foes.

Conservatives say it goes too far; Liberals, that is does not go far enough. Business groups fear more paperwork. Hispanic advocates see a political ploy. And Mexico says it's a good start — but only that.

The president's temporary worker program unveiled Wednesday would offer undocumented workers who can show they have a job — or, for those still in their home countries, a job offer — an initial three-year work permit that would be renewable for an unspecified period.

The Bush administration — sensitive to conservatives who oppose any reward for those who broke the law when they entered the United States — said it is not proposing blanket amnesty for illegals and the program is not linked to the green card process, which grants citizenship.

Some immigrant rights groups expressed disappointment at that omission, saying permanent citizenship should be extended to millions of hardworking, taxpaying immigrants and their family members.

"What we need is comprehensive reform that includes a generous legalization component, labor rights protections and guarantees of family unification," the New Mexico-based group Somos Un Pueblo Unido said in a statement Wednesday.

Some immigrants were encouraged by the possibility of having some 8 million illegal foreign workers estimated to be in this country granted legal status and the protection of U.S. laws.

"From nothing to this, well, at least that's a good start," said Florencio Guzman Silva, a 60-year-old bricklayer from Mexico, who waited with 100 other people at a day labor center in Phoenix, Ariz.

But Lucas Benitez, one of the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which represents thousands of immigrants who work mostly in agriculture and in service sectors in Florida, questioned Mr. Bush's motives.

"It's a political ploy to get Hispanic votes, like in the 2000 presidential election," Benitez said. "The proposal only benefits the industries. It exploits the work force that has always been unprotected and it lowers the workers' salaries even more."

Mexico applauded the plan, but said more was needed. Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez called the White House's proposal "the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end" of the immigration debate.

On the other end of the spectrum, David Ray, spokesman for the Washington-based Federation For American Immigration Reform, which advocates limits on immigration, argued that Mr. Bush's policies undermine American workers' wages and encourage illegal immigration.

"It's mind-boggling that in the midst of economic recovery with 9 million people jobless, President Bush would propose this," Ray said. "It's going to have a dire effect on wages for American families. It will cause huge displacement of American workers. We will witness how American jobs are given away right before our eyes."

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., told CBS News the plan is just another form of amnesty for illegal aliens.

"No matter how you want to dress it up, no matter what euphemism you want to use to describe it - legalization, regularization - it's amnesty. You are rewarding people for breaking the law. It's a bad idea. "

Other observers focused on the implications for American businesses.

Josh Bernstein, director of federal policy for the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrants' rights, said while businesses will be more free to hire immigrant labor, they won't escape federal oversight and paperwork.

"This, in the long run, is more complicated to administer. It becomes more bureaucratic. That's going to undermine the whole intent of bringing people out from under the shadows. They'd feel it's a trap," he said.

But Cindy Ramos-Davidson, chief executive officer of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the proposals will help business owners fill service jobs that Americans don't want and help farmers who can't afford machines to harvest their crops.

"I am optimistic," she said, "about the possibilities this proposal could open up."

Mexican President Vicente Fox, reacting to the Bush initiative, called immigration "the fundamental theme of the bilateral relationship" between Mexico and the United States.

Fox said it was his government's goal to give all Mexicans living and working illegally in the United States "all the rights that any worker has in that country."

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he is confident the immigration reform plan would be approved by Congress.

"Why am I confident?" Frist said Wednesday during a visit to Mexico City. "Because it is a security issue. … At a time when everybody in the United States and everybody in Mexico at least would understand that documentation is important for security, it's hard to argue, it's hard to say it should not pass."

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told CBS News Correspondent Melissa McDermott he's willing to see how the plan pans out.

"They'll be time to evaluate, and analyze, and be critical of the President of the United States," Gutierrez said, "if he fails to deliver on his commitments today to reform our immigration policy and to incorporate the millions of hardworking, tax-paying, law-abiding immigrants in this country that need legal immigration status."

View CBS News In