Bush plan would let some illegal workers keep jobs
From Dana Bash and John King
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) --In what the White House is billing as an important speech on immigration policy, President Bush on Wednesday will unveil a plan that would allow immigrants to enter the United States if they have jobs.
The proposal also is expected to put illegal workers already in the United States on a path toward legal status.
"There is an economic need, and it is important that we have an immigration policy that meets those economic needs," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan in a preview of the speech.
"America should be a welcoming society. We are a nation of immigrants, and our nation is better for it."
About 150 guests will be invited to the White House East Room to hear the address, including members of immigration groups and others interested in such policy, McClellan said.
He said the president has been working on a way "to match willing workers with willing employees."
The proposal is likely to include a new Internet-based registry to match prospective immigrants with jobs in the United States, sources said.
However, one Bush administration official said a mechanism will be in place to ensure "first dibs on jobs to go American workers."
The official said the proposal would allow migrant workers to collect retirement benefits from Social Security taxes they pay while working in the United States.
Many undocumented workers pay into the Social Security system but do not receive benefits because they do not have legal Social Security numbers.
Officials said the president has ruled out granting amnesty to illegal immigrants living and working in the United States, a move that many conservatives strongly oppose.
But one official noted, "So many illegal immigrants are in the country, we need to find a way to resolve that problem in a compassionate and productive way."
Such a process is expected to include a series of steps that could lead to legal status, officials said.
The proposal is Bush's first major policy initiative of 2004 -- a critical re-election year -- and will be unveiled days before his visit next week to Mexico for a regional summit and talks with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Immigration policy has been a source of frequent tension between the two leaders.
The Bush and Fox administrations together crafted the new proposal, and U.S. officials said the two are determined to create a cordial and productive relationship.
"We have discussed for a long time with Mexico the need for a more humane, safe, orderly migration policy," McClellan said.
But he said the September 11 attacks forced a shift in focus to border security.
The Latino population is growing and represent a swing voting bloc that Bush political aides see as key to victory and have been trying to court.
Some community groups warn that the president's proposal has to be far-reaching enough to make a big difference politically.
"If proposals that give Hispanic immigrants more rights are enacted, it will certainly help with the community, but if it is just a guest worker program and no legalization, then the community is not going to like it," said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of League of United Latin American Citizens.
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