You know you’ve done something right when you manage to alienate dogmatic liberals and dogmatic conservatives at the same time. That’s exactly what’s happening with George Bush’s plan to deal with ill

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 20, 2004

Pro-immigration advocates are complaining that the proposal does not go far enough. They want illegal immigrants to get permanent residency.

Anti-immigration advocates are complaining that the proposal goes too far. They want illegal immigrants deported.

In a nutshell, Bush is proposing that illegal immigrants with employers willing to sponsor them be permitted to apply for temporary-worker status for up to six years, during which time they may apply for permanent residency; if they are not granted residency, they can be deported.

Email newsletter signup

The plan is not a true amnesty, because there’s no blanket OK-you-can-stay-forever provision. Yet it is something close to an amnesty — a word you won’t hear Bushies utter — because it allows millions of illegal immigrants to live and work here legally, at least for a number of years.

And that compromise, falling as it does somewhere between amnesty and deportation, is precisely what makes the plan fair and rational.

What the Bush administration did is face up to the reality that it is hardly possible logistically, economically or humanely to chase down 8 million to 10 million illegal immigrants and kick them out of the country. The vast majority simply want what most Americans want — a decent life — and are willing to take on jobs Americans won’t touch.

Yet illegal immigrants have broken the law, and there must be some accounting for that. It would be unfair for people who are here illegally to be immediately granted a green card just like immigrants who are here legally. It would be unfair, too, for them to jump ahead of others who wait patiently in foreign nations for the visa that allows them to immigrate legally.

Then there are the politics of it. It’s a no-brainer. With this proposal Bush is virtually guaranteed to improve upon the 35 percent of the Hispanic vote he won in 2000.

Congress should make some changes when it gets the legislation. It should insist on reinvigorated patrolling of the border and closer monitoring of foreign visitors to make sure they don’t overstay their visas. This needs to be done anyway for security reasons, but now it needs to be done for immigration-policy reasons, too: The country needs to discourage new illegal immigration even as it eases conditions for illegal immigrants already here.

Yes, it’s a tricky balance. And yes, Bush’s semi-amnesty strikes it without falling to either side.

Cuban-born Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.