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Bracero Redux: Bush Immigration Proposal Creates New Pool of Temporary Workers

StoryJanuary 08, 2004
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We speak with Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) about President Bush’s proposal to allow some undocumented workers to apply for government permission to legally work in the U.S. for three years at a time. [lincludes transcript]

President Bush Wednesday unveiled a proposal to allow some undocumented workers to apply for government permission to legally work in the U.S. for three years at a time. The plan, which is being aimed to win Latino votes in November, has been criticized by some immigrant advocacy groups and Democratic politicians.

New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez said of immigrant workers, Bush "wants their sweat and labor, but he ultimately doesn’t want them." On the campaign trail, Senator John Kerry said the program "rewards business over immigrants by providing them with a permanent pool of disenfranchised temporary workers who could easily be exploited." Bush said reform was needed in part to allow the government to have a better idea of who is in the country. In order to receive benefits undocumented workers would have to apply with the government.

  • Rep. Jose Serrano (D–NY)

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!, as we turn now to President Bush’s address yesterday.

PRESIDENT BUSH: America’s acting on a basic belief. Our borders should be open to legal travel, and honest trade. Our borders should be shut and barred tight to criminals, to drug traders, drug traffickers, and to criminals. And to terrorists. Second to immigration, laws should serve the economic needs of our country. If an American employer is offering a job that American citizens are not willing to take we ought to welcome into our country a person who will fill that job. Third, we should not give unfair rewards to illegal immigrants in the citizenship process, or disadvantage those who came here lawfully or hope to do so. Fourth, new laws should provide incentives for temporary, foreign workers to return permanently to their home countries, after their period of work in the United States has expired. Today I ask the congress to join me in passing new immigration laws that reflect these principles that meet America’s economic needs and live up to their highest ideals.

AMY GOODMAN: President George Bush, speaking yesterday, unveiling the new administration proposal. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. In that speech, the president unveiled his proposal to allow some undocumented workers, possibly as many as 8 million to apply for government permission to legally work in the U.S. For three years at a time. The plan, which is being aimed to win Latino votes in November, has been criticized by some immigrant advocacy groups and democratic leaders. New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez said of immigrant workers, "Bush," quote, "wants their sweat and labor, but he ultimately doesn’t want them." On the campaign trail, Senator John Kerry said that "The program," quote, "rewards business over immigrants by providing them with a permanent pool of disenfranchised workers, and who could easily be exploited. Bush said the reform was needed in order to allow the government to have a better idea of who was in the country. We’re joined now by new York congressman Jose Serrano, a democrat from the Bronx. Welcome to democracy now!.

JOSE SERRANO: Welcome, guys. Thank you for the opportunity to be with you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Can you tell us your reaction to the sudden announcement of president bush that he is going to attempt to essentially create a situation — a new category of people in the United States, not just people who are permanent residents and citizens, but now temporary guest workers?

JOSE SERRANO: Well, you know, Juan, tomorrow I begin my 30th year in public office. The one thing that I have learned throughout those years is sometimes it is as important to find out who wrote the proposal as it is to analyze the proposal. If this proposal had been written even by conservative republican immigration activists I would look at it and maybe cut it some slack and assume they want to deal with the issue. But my understanding is this was written in the white house, in the oval office by Karl Rove, whose job is to re-elect the president, and nothing else. So, what are we doing? We’re going to tell people now — listen, come forth. Tell us you’re here illegally, undocumented, and then we’re going to give you a job, allow you to work three years. After three years, we’ll decide whether you can stay in the country or not. Well, if I’m undocumented and I’m working, and I have got children that were born in this country and I have been working in all honesty under the radar screen, why would I during this administration take the chance of coming public when I know that in three years, I could be booted out of the country. In addition, I really think this is part of the largest plan to identify who’s here. You know, the old big brother routine and know who’s here by name. There was a gentleman on Spanish TV this morning saying if you come forward and give us your social security number, even if it’s not a legal social security number, you will be able to work. But what was the last time you heard, Juan or Amy, where someone would come forth and admit they broke the law in getting an improper social security number, and that somebody would give them a break? So, I’m troubled by what it means. But lastly, what Kerry said, and what Bob Menendez said is the truth. This is about you can work, but you cannot back citizen. The ultimate goal of activists like me is to have people become citizens.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In a column in today’s "Daily News" I referred this to the new Wal-Mart Bracero program. This is not the first temporary guest worker program, that the country has had, right? There was one in the 1940’s and 1950’s that president Roosevelt started that brought in hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers. Many of them were deported. Your sense of how business — American business stands to benefit from this?

JOSE SERRANO: Well, American business, as you well stated in your opening comments are — in the segment’s opening comments, if I’m a businessman who really doesn’t care for the status of my workers, but cares for the labor that I’m going to get, if you don’t perform at the level or in the behavior that I want to form I can end up not saying nice things about you at the end of your three year period, which means that you could be in deep water. Whereas now people are not trying to create that kind after problem for you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: So, in other words, instead of Wal-Mart just hiring people at night to clean up their store they’re actually going to hire temporary guest workers to be sales clerks and shipping clerks as well out in the open during the day?

JOSE SERRANO: Absolutely. That was — that would be a dangerous situation. What I’m sorry to hear is happening, and I heard this morning, they are saying we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Take what we can. We expect it to get better in congress. Are you kidding me? Tom Tancredo and the right wingers are going to make what the president put forth better in congress? They’re going to make it worse. So, what I was hoping that the President would do is ask for proposed things that you and I would applaud and then the let the Republican House water it down what, and in the process we would have a decent program, what he proposed is a watered down Braccero program, which by the time the Republican House gets through with it, will look like nothing we could ever applaud.

AMY GOODMAN: The motivation?

JOSE SERRANO: The motivation, I believe, by the White House is to say that they’re doing something for Hispanics. I must say, and I’m going to get in trouble for saying this but I don’t care, the Spanish media in the last 24 hours has nothing good on this at all. They’re looking at it, and they’re all bush supporters saying this is a great first step. When you have 8 to 11 million undocumented people in the country with children paying taxes and providing for this economy, there is no such thing as a good first step. This is an amnesty. It is a true worker’s program, or it is nothing. What I have seen is nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: This just in, Congressman Serrano, U.S. Black Hawk helicopter has just crashed south of Fallujah, killing all eight U.S. Soldiers aboard. It’s unclear at this time what has caused the crash. Your comment as the — as the invasion now occupation continues to drag out more and more U.S. soldiers, many more than — have died since President Bush announced an end to major combat operations. Not to mention that we’re also talking about an army that now has many, many Green Card carriers in it, people who have green cards in this country, who are fighting for the United States in Iraq.

JOSE SERRANO: Well, you know, I, as you know, because we reported it on this station and this program was one of six members of congress that took the president to court to try to stop him from going to war. I believe that I am right. Unfortunately, war is not kind of political issue where you come back and you say, gee, I told you so, because when people are losing their lives, there’s nothing to gloat about on either side of the issue. This was wrong. This is — has stirred up the Middle East even worse than before. This has made enemies for us. We’re losing people. We’re killing people. And this is going to continue, and you know, the capture of Saddam Hussein might be a good publicity situation, and certainly a bad guy is out of business, but that’s not the reason we went to war. We went to war to make our country safer. I don’t know that we are safer. And this will continue. And you know, I — I just cannot understand why people who are pretty bright could have made such a miserable mistake.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jose Serrano, Democrat from the Bronx in New York.

JOSE SERRANO: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for the show.

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