Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/fri/31212nimmigration.html
Millions would be legalized
Immigrant advocates hail suggestion by Tom Ridge
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
December 12, 2003
WASHINGTON - Immigrant advocates are welcoming Homeland Security Secretary Tom
Ridge's suggestion to legalize millions of illegal immigrants as a sign that the
Bush administration may be recommitting itself to a plan derailed after the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Though administration officials on Thursday downplayed the remarks and denied
any policy shift, groups pressing for a sweeping legalization program said
Ridge's comments represent a positive first step.
Judy Golub, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers
Association, said: "I think people are recognizing it's time to get back to
Ridge touched off the debate, perhaps inadvertently, when he answered a
questioner at a Miami town hall meeting Tuesday, saying Americans "have to come
to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals (and) afford them some
kind of legal status some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration
policy is and then enforce it."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday that the remarks by Ridge,
who oversees immigration enforcement, do not mean the administration will
support a move "toward any broad amnesty."
Still, the administration has relaunched a discussion over ways to achieve what
McClellan called "a more orderly, safe and humane migration policy" with Mexico,
which accounts for more than half of the illegal immigrant population in the
Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Mexican counterpart, Luis
Ernesto Derbez, pledged to revive migration talks. Discussions were shunted
aside after the terrorist attacks and pushed further into the freeze amid
U.S.-Mexican tensions over the war in Iraq, a fight over water and other
contentious topics. Still, they committed only to a "step-by-step process" and
offered no specifics or a timetable.
McClellan and Ridge spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the administration isn't
prepared to sketch its plans and that policy proposals remain under discussion.
Nor has the White House formally endorsed any of the guest-worker bills
circulating on Capitol Hill, which would provide visas or the path to legal
residence for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants.
"I don't see a substantial change in immigration policy in an election year,"
said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, a House immigration subcommittee member
who has expressed concern that an amnesty program for illegal immigrants could
harm national security.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower
immigration rates, predicted the White House would downplay talk of major
immigration change - particularly an amnesty sure to be controversial with large
swaths of the American public - until after the election.
"The public is ambivalent about this," he said. "A consensus hasn't really
jelled in such a way as to permit significant change."