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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Bush Floats Amnesty Proposal
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

This week immigration was a topic in major news outlets to an extent not seen since the Elian Gonzalez custody battle. News that the Bush administration might support an amnesty for undocumented Mexican workers swept across the nation, with the response one would have expected.

The week began with reports that the administration would support a full amnesty. These reports were quickly refuted on Monday, when Bush’s Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, discussed the issue. Fleischer said that one of the proposals the working group of US and Mexican officials that is looking into immigration between the two countries is the creation of a new guest worker program that might provide a way to legalize the status of the estimated 3 million undocumented Mexican workers in the US. Fleischer said any proposal along these lines would not be an amnesty, insisting it would be a temporary worker program.

On Wednesday a group of Mexican senators spoke with a number of their US counterparts, urging them to support an amnesty. Silvia Hernandez, the president of the Mexican Senate’s North American Relations Committee said that they found the US senators to be open to the possibility of an amnesty program. Among others, they met with Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Kennedy said that in their talks they discussed some possible specifics of the program. Some of the Mexican senators said the meetings convinced them that there is a growing recognition of the importance of Mexican workers to the US.

Speaking this week at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the US, Mexican President Vicente Fox urged Bush to “document and legalize” the status of undocumented Mexicans. Coming on Tuesday, just one day after the administration denied that it was considering an amnesty, some see Fox’s remarks as a challenge to Bush to overcome criticism on the issue from those within the Republican Party who oppose amnesty. Fox also said he wanted for Mexico to be exempt from visa quotas and for undocumented Mexicans to be able to obtain driver’s licenses.

Democratic leaders have, for the most part, applauded the administration, but say that any program, whether an amnesty or not, should not be limited to Mexicans, but should apply to all people, regardless of their nationality. Others express more skepticism about the proposal. Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) criticized the proposal for its lack of detail. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SA) also expressed concern that Bush might be pressured away from any legalization proposal by anti-immigration elements of the Republican Party. Indeed, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), generally one of Bush’s strongest supporters, said a legalization program would be “very bad policy,” and would only reward those who broke the law in entering the US.

Many observers attribute Bush’s change of heart on the possibility of an amnesty to political needs. During the campaign, he came out firmly against not only amnesty but also any proposal that would legalize the status of people who came to the US illegally. However, his dismal performance among Hispanic voters (65% of whom voted for Al Gore) leads many to think he is trying to gain support among them with talk of an amnesty. Of course, if the proposal did end up benefiting only Mexicans, it could anger other Hispanic groups. The amnesty talk is also seen as part of Bush’s efforts to remake the image of the Republican Party as more immigrant friendly than it was during the 1990s.

Other events this week showed how difficult that might be. Even though opinions on amnesty are divided, there is widespread support for a guest worker program. Most supported a proposal introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), but the success of that bill is now in doubt, following the introduction of a competing proposal by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID). Craig’s proposal would allow agricultural workers who have worked 150 days over a 12-month period to apply for temporary residence. If they can then show that they have worked 150 days in four years of the six-year period that begins November 1, 2001, they can apply for permanent residence. Experts say it will be nearly impossible for people to qualify, because the average agricultural worker only works about 100 days a year.

Even among those who generally would support an amnesty, there are serious concerns. Perhaps most basic is that given the state of the INS, would the agency be capable of dealing with three million amnesty applications. The INS also has a history of making serious errors in amnesty programs. During the 1986 amnesty, many eligible people were rejected, leading to a number of lawsuits, some of which are still in the courts. Many human rights advocates are also concerned that talk of an amnesty will lead many to risk their lives trying to enter the US. They believe that an amnesty or legalization program should be part of an overall plan to deal with migration.

Whatever the proposal ends up as, it is expected that it will be before Congress by the time Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox in September.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defender’s office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com



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