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Bush advises reforms to immigration law

Alfonso Chardy Knight Ridder

MIAMI – Pedro Santizo, a Guatemalan, could benefit – or suffer – under President Bush’s latest proposal to reform immigration law.

Santizo arrived a year ago from his village in Quiche and now works in Southwest Miami-Dade, Fla.’s, farm fields. He crossed the Mexico-U.S. border through the Arizona desert and made his way to Homestead where he now earns about $80 a day to pay a $7,000 debt to migrant smugglers and send money to his wife and five children.

Since Santizo is already in the United States he could qualify for a temporary work permit, if Bush’s plan becomes law – but only if Santizo continues to avoid detection and deportation under other measures in Bush’s latest proposal.

To make his temporary work proposal more palatable to Congress and voters worried about illegal immigration, Bush now is calling for an expansion of summary deportations – with no legal option to appeal – as a way to tighten border controls.

Temporary work permits would be issued to those who have lived here illegally for a period of time that has yet to be determined by Congress. An estimated 12 million people might benefit.

As Santizo, 31, waited recently to be picked up for farm work at a street corner in Homestead where dozens of migrant workers congregate daily before sunrise, he said he likes the idea of temporary work permits.

“I want to save money for about four years and then return to Guatemala and open a business,” he said.

If summary deportations, currently in use on the Mexico-U.S. border, were expanded to the streets of South Florida, people like Santizo who have lived here less than two years could be summarily sent back.

The administration is counting on such a carrot-and-stick approach to improve a national immigration system that has failed to deter illegal migrants like Santizo. The current system has become a political albatross for members of Congress as polls continue to show voters’ rising ire about unprotected borders and the costs of illegal immigration.

In speeches in Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas, last week, Bush reiterated his guest worker proposal but added summary deportations as a tool to deter illegal entry.

It was the first time Bush has specifically cited a tough enforcement element as a key feature of his plan. Last year, Bush only mentioned temporary work visas.

Since then, many of his own supporters have said the plan sounded too much like amnesty for illegal migrants because it did not contain enforcement provisions.

Homeland Security retooled the proposal and summary deportations known formally as “expedited removals” were added.

At present, expedited removal is used mainly at the border, at ports of entry such as airports and seaports, and for people who arrive by boat – except for Cubans whose arrivals are subject to the wet foot/dry foot policy that generally allows them to stay legally if they reach U.S. soil.

Bush said expedited removal deterred illegal migrants because it bypassed the lengthy litigation that often delays a foreigner’s deportation – sometimes for months or years.

Federal regulations allow foreign nationals classified as inadmissible to be deported without a hearing before an immigration judge if they sneaked into the country undetected and, when discovered, cannot convince an immigration officer they have been in the United States “continuously” for two or more years.

For now, procedures in effect along the Mexican border call for expedited removal of inadmissible foreign nationals who have been in the country no more than 14 days.

Initially, expedited removal was mainly applied to inadmissible Mexicans at the land border and to anyone without proper papers at airports and seaports.

But in 2002, the Bush administration expanded expedited removal to foreign nationals who arrived by boat – except Cubans. The measure was implemented soon after large boatloads of Haitians arrived in South Florida.

It was further expanded last year when Homeland Security allowed the Border Patrol to summarily remove foreigners discovered within 100 miles of the Mexican or Canadian borders.

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