Naked City

Austin cool to migrant plan

President Bush's proposal to give temporary legal status to illegal immigrants is drawing mixed reviews in Austin. "It's a good first attempt at providing legal recognition to these workers," said Eliza May, executive director of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "But I'm disappointed that we're not talking about what happens after three years. I'd like to see how our policy will treat these people after three years."

Bush's new reform policy would allow illegal immigrants to apply for three-year legal status as guest workers in the U.S. Bush was vague on specific details, particularly with respect to whether workers would have the option of permanent legal status. Under the proposal, applicants already living in the U.S. must be employed and those wanting to come here must have a job waiting for them when they arrive. Mexico's President Vicente Fox initially gave only tepid support, but ratcheted up his enthusiasm for the policy after meeting with Bush in Monterrey early this week.

The Equal Justice Center, a nonprofit public-interest law center in Austin, was immediately critical of the policy for failing to allow full legal status to undocumented workers already in the U.S. In a statement issued after Bush's announcement last week, the EJC faulted temporary guest worker programs in general because they place workers at the mercy of their employers and create a category of "second-class workers" who contribute to our economy but are denied a voice in society. Labor leaders also expressed skepticism because such programs put workers at risk of abuse and exploitation by employers.

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