Bush immigration proposals could help processors

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Promised reforms to the US immigration system could ensure the
supply of workers to meat andpoultry processors -- and help them
avoid problems with the law.

The planned reforms, announced this week by president George Bush in his State of the Unionaddress, would allow immigrants into the US under a temporary work permit system, create a tamperproof identity card for them, while at the same time increase fines against employers who hireillegal workers.

The proposals would have to go through legislators before become law. Industry has been urgingthe US administration to make the changes due to the ease with which illegal immigrants can get holdof forged identity papers and social security laws.

For example, Swift & Co. last month had to reduce production after it was the target ofimmigration raids in which about 1,300 workers were arrested and taken out of its workforce. Thecompany has said the raids cost the company about $30m in lost production. The raids targeted mainlyimmigrants from Mexico, a main source of workers for minimum wage industries.

The immigration proposals include a push to beef to border security, workplace enforcement and the creation of a temporary guest worker program.Bush said that the new guest worker program would help resolve the status of the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in theUS.

"We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and withoutamnesty,"​ Bush said.

The plan includes a proposal to create a new, tamper-proof identification card for all legal foreign workers in theUS. Bush also called for the expansion of the immigration department's Basic Pilot Program, which gives employers theability to electronically verify work eligibility.

Bush also wants to create a national, guest worker program . The program will serve the needs of the economy by providing alawful and fair way to match willing workers with willing employers to fill jobs that are not being taken byAmericans, he said.

Another proposal would allow illegal workers currently in the US to remain -- after paying a substantial penalty for breaking thelaw, he said. In addition, they will be required to learn English, pay their taxes pass a background check and hold a job for a number of years before beingconsidered for legal status.

Bush would also beef up worksite enforcement through a combination of criminal prosecution andincreased fines forfeitures. The current system relies on a combination of administrative hearings and fines. The finesare so modest that some employers treated them as merely a cost of doing business, and employment of undocumented workers continued unabated.

Bush noted that the number of illegal workers caught at manufacturing sites has increased dramaticallyduring his term in office. About 4,300 arrests were made in worksite enforcement cases during 2006, more than seven times the arrests in 2002.

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