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On a conference call

On a conference call early this evening, "senior administration officials" walked reporters through the ins and outs of the new immigration policy the president will announce tomorrow.

Now you can listen in ...

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tomorrow the President will propose a new temporary worker program that will match willing foreign workers with willing U.S. employers when no Americans can be found to fill those jobs. This new program would be open both to new perspective foreign workers who are currently in our country, and the undocumented men and women who are currently employed in the United States -- currently employed in the United States.

He will also lay out several detailed principles for immigration reform and call on Congress to enact legislation that would create this new temporary worker program in accordance with these principles. Those principles are that we must protect the homeland by controlling our borders, meaning that we need to know who is here and what their status is. And so we would also work with other foreign governments to make efforts to control our border, but also enforce violations against both employers and people who are here illegally.

Secondly, it would obviously serve our American economy by matching willing worker with willing employer, as the President has said on many occasions, when no American is available for the job. It will provide a labor supply for American employers in a way that is streamlined, efficient, clear and workable.

The third principle is that this program should promote compassion by understanding the current broken system that we have with as many as 8 million people who are currently undocumented in our country, and provide a way to put them as part of the legitimate part of our economy.

Next, it would provide incentives for return to the home country, such as totalization agreements, as we have with several foreign countries around the world, and would create -- call for the creation of savings accounts that could be used for the benefit of the participant for either retirement or for a nest egg to buy land or capitalize a business, or whatever.

Finally, it will protect the rights of illegal workers who now live in the shadows and are fearful of coming out of the shadows, for fear of deportation. They will now enjoy the same protections that American workers have with respect to wages and employment rights and the like.

So that's it, in a nutshell -- principles, calling for a new temporary worker program. It also will call for, in the name of some of the detail, a reasonable increase in the number of green cards. As I hope many of you know that green card holders can then, after five years, elect to become citizens. And we have limitations as to the number of green cards that are available annually. And it would increase some capacity in that regard. My colleague -- I know you have to go.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Open it questions.

QUESTION I was wondering what capacity the Department has at this point to process both the temporary worker visas, or will that be going through some other department? In addition, when it comes to green cards, are there any capacity issues or ramping up that you're going to have to do? Do you have the surge capacity there, in terms of processing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And this is addressed for me at homeland security, I assume.

QUESTION Yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, let me start -- in terms of the current capacity, we're trying to reduce the backlog that has existed over the years. And we're working to meet the President's initiative on reducing the backlog. The capacity going forward, in relation to this particular initiative, will be dealt with when the Congress responds to the President's call to deal with this immigration issue. And we'll have to then see the law that can be enacted and signed by the President and how we'll be instructed to deal with it. What we're going to do in the meanwhile is make sure that we bring new technology to the front, as we've been doing the last few months, to make sure that this can be expeditiously processed.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me pick up on that for a second. One of the things that's integrated in these principles is -- and the President will call for -- a three-year term of participation for the temporary worker program, and call for the opportunity for that to be renewed. There are a number of pieces of legislation on the Hill that speak to terms and number eligibles, whether it's renewable or not, so on and so forth, and so there are a lot of moving parts with respect to the detail of the worker program that will certainly affect the capacity to implement the program, as well.

QUESTION Would that be run through the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Labor, just the temporary worker piece?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be run through the Department of Homeland Security in coordination and cooperation with other elements of the administration, which, of course, would include the Department of Labor.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Which is just the way that we do other temporary visa programs currently.

QUESTION Do you have any idea how many people who are currently working in the country illegally would be allowed to get on a green card track, and would their families be allowed to come in? And what would happen with continuing flows of folks who would be coming to the U.S. without documentation?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the important parts of this policy is to make clear that there is no linkage between the temporary worker program and the terms of that program, and the normal process for citizenship. Let me take the latter part first. We do believe that while the queue is -- there's a long line and there is limited capacity, that we should expand to some extent the opportunity for people to get green cards. That's a separate issue. However, the terms of the temporary worker program -- as I said, three years initially, allowed to be renewed and so forth -- we believe estimates to be about 8 million people who are here undocumented. We don't know exactly how many of those are working. We do know about 14 percent of our labor market is foreign born.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I piggy-back on that for a second? I can see why you're honing in on the green card, because that's an existing program. What is likely to get lost here, if you don't focus on it, is that this is a new initiative to an old problem. We're talking about something brand-new. We're talking about a temporary worker program that doesn't exist today. And we're calling on Congress -- the President would be calling on Congress to craft a new law that would deal with this phenomena that is happening around us today.

QUESTION So these are not H2B's?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, this would be a completely new program.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Non-sector specific. As you may know, there is no current way to come here temporarily to work in many, many sectors, such as the service industry, the construction industry and the like.

QUESTION With portability?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Between sectors, yes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. And if you go back to the number that my colleague has mentioned a couple times, we estimate -- although we don't know for sure, because these are people that are undocumented -- but we estimate that 7 to 8 million individuals exist in this country that would have the opportunity to seek this program.

QUESTION I guess I'm just not clear as to how those who would desire to obtain green cards and get on a citizenship track, how they would attach themselves to that track? Because now, as you know, if you apply, and you're recognized as an illegal, you are automatically expelled.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the green card, as it's commonly called, is a permanent residency status. And we're talking about a temporary worker program. And therein lies the basic difference, temporary versus permanency. So if somebody -- if this law is crafted and enacted under the President's initiative, we're talking about somebody who would be on a temporary worker status, and ultimately will find themselves back in their home after having worked in the United States.

QUESTION Would they have no access to a green card?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they would not lose any access to the green card, they would not benefit or lose any advantage on the green card. They can still apply for a green card. If they marry a U.S. citizen, they can still apply for permanent residency.

QUESTION Okay. Just one more question, if I may. I apologize for talking so much. But would you then cure the current prohibition on someone who is recognized as an illegal receiving a green card through the current procedures?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just don't think there's connectivity here. I think the individual that would apply for a green card on -- that would be to the advantage of this program or not, it's not precluded to them, would not be precluded in the future.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct. You can be a temporary worker and potentially seek citizenship, but you can also be a temporary worker and not seek citizenship.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, yes. And the citizenship would be getting -- you can be a temporary worker and seek primary residency, or green card, or not. You're not precluded from that. It's just a different track. If you visualize in your mind's eye two different tracks -- one would be for primary residency, one for temporary worker. You can go from one track to the other, but you're not necessarily going to go there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You need not.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.

QUESTION I was hoping to find out what the limit now is on green cards per year, and what additional capacity do you envision.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have a specific number for how much capacity we believe should be made available, additional capacity. The current number for employer based green cards I believe is 100,000 annually -- 140,000 annually.

QUESTION And if you're an undocumented worker now, can you apply for this temporary worker program just as if you were in another country, or is there something -- would you do something different?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, if you're currently here working, you would have to pay a registration fee to participate in the program; you would have to show that you were employed currently -- so the notion here is not to, during the course of the debate in the Congress, cause this program to be a magnet to lure people from foreign countries here to work. But you would have to be employed as of this moment. So that's how that would work.

They would have to pay a registration fee to participate in the program. Folks that are currently in their native country who want to apply as temporary workers need not necessarily -- need not pay the registration fee.

QUESTION And are you envisioning a sizeable fee or a small fee?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't know. That will be --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's part of the detail that we want to encourage the Congress in engaging in in healthy debate. Look, this is an issue that is ripe for debate, and I think we want -- I think what the President would be doing tomorrow is making sure that the initiative gets the right kind of debate. That it's not being discussed only in living rooms and offices, but it's actually being discussed in the public.

QUESTION Now, under the McCain-Kolbe-Flake legislation, if I'm undocumented now, before I can apply for the temporary worker program, there's like a three-year delay before I can apply. So under the President's principles, there's not the punishment, or there's not the -- someone who is here undocumented, under the President's program, doesn't have any sort of delay like that. Someone outside the country would not have any sort of leg up like that. I would be in the same queue as someone coming in from my native country?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly.

QUESTION And the last thing is, do you mind just elaborating a little bit on the point you made about the rights -- that you said that they will be able to come out of the shadows and have rights that U.S. workers do as far as wages and employment? Do you mind just spelling out how that would work?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. These people will obviously be on the books, if you will, as opposed to in an underground economy. They'll be legally here, working legally here. They'll pay payroll taxes, Social Security taxes and the like. As they rent property, they'll pay property taxes and buy property and so forth.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They'll pay sales taxes when they buy things.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So on and so forth. They will be in the above-ground economy. They also will enjoy the same protections that American workers have, such as minimum wage and the like, due process, health and safety requirements.

QUESTION Okay, I see. So, I'm sorry, I misunderstood. So this doesn't have anything -- this is only people in the temporary worker program. There's no new rights or protections for someone who is undocumented today.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the only new right in this case is that undocumented workers are very reticent to come forward and complain about unfair labor practices because they stand the possibility of being deported. This would make them --this will put them in a position where if there's an unfair practice taking place, they can feel comfortable going to the authorities and presenting the situation. That's a big difference.

QUESTION And what about these principles, if these principles were adopted, what would make them feel more comfortable doing that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they would have a legal status that, as a temporary worker individual, when and if they complain about a practice, they're not going to be deported because they're legal.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The other thing that is important to know is that there will be what we call circularity for these people. They'll be able to travel freely back to and from their home country, and they could work in Laredo and live in Nuevo Laredo and come and go daily and maintain their close connections and their roots in their home country, without paying coyotes or fear of injury or health, as we've seen people die in the desert, and so forth.

QUESTION Do you all envision this reducing the number of illegals in the U.S. or stabilizing it, or what will happen to that 8 million figure if these principles were adopted over time?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We believe that this is an attractive program that will reduce the number of illegal immigrants here and give them legal standing, so long as they're employed.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I apologize, but is there a last question for me? I've got to -- I really do have to run.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, thank you. I'm sorry, I've got to go. QUESTION I'm sorry I missed your colleague, but I have a few questions. This program is not only for permanent -- illegal immigrants already in the country, but also for any who might apply in other countries, as well? That's the principle, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, that's correct.

QUESTION And if you're not -- if there's not a job available for immigrants in this country -- illegal immigrants in this country, and they want to sign up for this program and they've stepped forward, should they be prepared to be deported, that there will be stepped up enforcement to deport these people?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, no one is eligible for participation unless they can show that they were employed in the program. So that's what it takes to become eligible, is that you are here and you're here working. Yes, we do envision more strenuous enforcement of employers and people who do not abide by the terms of a guest worker program.

QUESTION So does that mean that employers who are already employing undocumented immigrants will have to show that their job is one that needs to be matched with a temporary worker and get that undocumented immigrant into the temporary worker program?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the fact that the people are here, employed, is a test that the marketplace has assimilated those workers into our economy. The fact that they're employed is a proxy for that.

QUESTION So an employer won't have to fear that they'll also have to step forward and show that their worker is undocumented. Will they have to register that undocumented worker? Is that the idea?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The employer will sponsor the undocumented worker, yes. But if you're asking the question as to whether the person needs to say, okay, well, here's Mary, and she's in this spot, do we need to hold on Mary and look for some American to fill that position, the answer is, no. We assume that by virtue of Mary's employment, that marketplace test, if you will, has already been met.

QUESTION And I think you discussed trying to -- some compassion through incentives, et cetera, and tax savings accounts and labor protections. Is there any principle on the -- regarding children of undocumented immigrants who are U.S. citizens, and undocumented immigrants who worked in the temporary worker program and then have to go back to their country of origin, what would happen to their children?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Current temporary worker programs allow for dependents of the worker to be present in the United States, so long as they can demonstrate that they can support those dependents. And that would be true of this program, as well.

QUESTION But what if they have had children in the time that they have been here as illegal immigrants, and they join the temporary worker program, and then after working they have to go back?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If the temporary worker program that they've applied for concludes at the end of the term, then both the parent and the child would obviously return to the home country.

QUESTION And just to be clear, there is no incentive being offered to bring these workers into legalization, any kind of legalization program. The green card that you discuss is to -- they would have to do as they would do if they were just waiting -- they were still in their country of origin, as if they had never come here. They would have to go back to apply, they can't they don't get any kind of jump in line or any kind of permission to apply for that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not been specific about that point, only to say that these people should not be advantaged over people who have taken legal means to become citizens. But that's a detail that we would work through with the Congress, as to whether you could get in line during the term of the temporary worker program, and the like.

QUESTION So it's possible that people who are undocumented here who enter the temporary worker program won't ever have to leave if Congress supports that, to get legal permanent residency?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Currently, just as is the case with other temporary worker programs, there is a term, three years -- H1B, for example, is three years and can be renewed once, for a total of six years. At the conclusion of the term, the temporary worker -- remember the emphasis is on temporary worker -- must return to his or her home country. But they certainly can apply, that individual, for a green card, if they elect to make that choice, in the normal process, along with everybody else. QUESTION So the President is not expressing a principle of allowing these people to work, stay here, and while they stay here, apply for -- become legal permanent residents -- in other words, have earned legalization, have their work equal up to earning either eligibility or legal permanent resident?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. We're trying, as my colleague said, to think about these things as two separate doors to walk through. The temporary worker program is a way to work here legally, short of the United States citizenship, under certain conditions, et cetera, for a certain specified period of time. And then door number two is the normal naturalization process which includes legal permanent status, permanent resident, of five years before one can elect to become a citizen. So we're trying not to blur those two things together. One and two can go together, but they need not.

QUESTION Just to clarify that, because I'm a little confused about that last point. So if you're an undocumented worker now, you can apply to be a temporary worker, right? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.

QUESTION And while you're a temporary worker, you will then -- you will have no fear of deportation once you come forward?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.

QUESTION No fear of deportation, okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct. And not only that, but you'll be allowed to return and go to your native country and come back as you see fit. QUESTION Got it. And then this temporary worker, this undocumented worker who is now a temporary worker, will also then -- I was a clearer from Mike's question -- will also get all of the benefits of a legal worker. Is that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.

QUESTION Really, everything?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's just take an example. You have somebody who is working at the Holiday Inn. They are working there illegally now. Both the Holiday Inn and the employer say, we're a match, she's been working here as of such and such date, that person is now legal, let's say, for the three years of this program.

QUESTION Is now a legal, temporary worker.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Is a legal, temporary worker, and can go forward and back to Mexico, and while there, enjoys minimum wage, due process protections, et cetera --

QUESTION While here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: While here in the United States, working at the Holiday Inn.

QUESTION Minimum wage, due process, all that stuff. Okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.

QUESTION And then, meanwhile, while that person is enjoying all these things, that person can also apply for -- after -- apply for a green card?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They can apply for a green card, yes.

QUESTION After three years, or when? Right away?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Under the normal terms. Those are -- we have not --

QUESTION What is that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You have to have a sponsor -- the current citizenship process is not being effected, except to say that we probably do not have enough capacity in the system, 140,000 units a year, if you will, with a universe -- potential universe of 8 million, that's a pretty significant disconnect. We need to have some expansion of the opportunity for a green card to recognize that. Let me also note that there are -- well, anyway, go ahead.

QUESTION And so, back to where I was -- oh, yes, one last question. I know this was asked, but again, you are not telling us how large this temporary worker program is going to be.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It could be as many as -- so long as the undocumented person represents that they are working here and we can confirm that, then it could be as many as eight million people.

QUESTION Really?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The thing about this issue is, we really don't know how many people are here illegally, nor do we know how many are working. Estimates are approximately eight million.

QUESTION And tell me why this is not amnesty?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because there is no -- there is no linkage between participation in this program and a green card, and it is temporary in nature. One must go home upon the conclusion of the program.

QUESTION And you think, for example, that six years -- you might have to wait six years for -- I guess with the way it is now, you sometimes have to wait six years for a green card.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.

QUESTION And must go home after six years, okay.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not specified neither the number of terms for how long -- how many times the temporary guest worker program could be renewed, nor the enhanced capacity in the green card line.

QUESTION Thank you. First, these green cards -- I take it from what you've said that these are going to be employment based visas, not family reunification visas.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't stipulated that specifically. The number I gave as an example was the 140,000 employment based number is the current capacity of that program.

QUESTION So can you tell me that you might make them available to accelerate the entry of people into the country? I think there's several million people under the family-based system who are already eligible to enter and are just waiting for visa allotments. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not spoken to that. We have not said we would or wouldn't. We have said that the capacity for green cards ought to be expanded.

QUESTION And you haven't thought about giving preference to people who are already in the green card pipeline, have been approved and are on the backlogs? You would give preference to people who were here --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. These people should not be advantaged -- that is clearly one of our principles -- should not be advantaged over people who have come here through legal means.

QUESTION But if you give somebody in the country these work permits, I guess, while there's people waiting outside the country who have already been approved and who are playing by the rules, doesn't that disadvantage them? Unless you allot those visas and give them preference for those jobs?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, and with respect to this enhanced capacity of green cards, as you know, there are a number of ways to allocate that. It could be in the family-based, it could be in the employer-based, it could be the first preference, unmarried -- spouse, unmarried, all the various variations on the family sponsorship, so on. So to allocate the capacity is something that we'll be discussing with the Congress.

QUESTION Then the other thing is, you say that you -- I think you said that this won't be a magnet for illegal immigration. But if you say everybody who is here working today can get access to a work permit, I presume it will be some kind of a work permit in this program, then why would you not expect people to come rushing in to take advantage of it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because our borders are more secure than ever before for starters. And because this is a line in the reality of our American economy and job here, and as I said, the responsibility of employers to seek American workers and so forth. And they have to demonstrate that they were working as of now.

QUESTION One thing I'm a little confused about, you're saying you don't know how many terms the temporary worker program could be, but presumably somebody who is working at the Holiday Inn, to use your example, and they apply for the temporary worker program, that means at the same time the Holiday Inn company could sponsor this employee right at the moment that they begin their temporary legal work for a green card.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.

QUESTION And so the only reason that this person would have to go home at the end of the term was if their term of work ended before their number came up in the green card line?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.

QUESTION Okay. So there is a possibility that if you put enough terms on and add enough green cards, that nobody will be forced to go home?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that's a matter, obviously, for the Congress.

QUESTION For the Congress to decide. And while they are here, legally working and being able to go back and forth to Mexico, they will be able to bring their dependent spouse and children with them as long as they can show that they can take care of them. So if they have been working here illegally, gotten married, had some children, the wife and the children will also be of at least temporary legal status, the children will be able to go school and they'll be able to do all the other things that any legal worker would be able to do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's currently the case with current visa programs. The difference with this is that these people, as I said, will be in the open economy, paying taxes and so forth, as opposed to not. Also, another example is, I mean it's conceivable that the temporary worker gets married to a United States citizen and so forth, and then could seek a green card through that route. So you all want to blur these things in together and they can coexist, but they need not.

QUESTION Right, but for the people who are out there now that are currently, as you say, in the underground economy, who have no interest in going back to their home country, they might be scared to come forward and apply for this temporary worker program unless they knew there was some possibility that they could, in fact, get a green card and remain in the country.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's why the enforcement part of this proposal is so key, both on the employer side to not allow employers to hire illegal workers or people who are not legitimately in the program, and to people who have not followed the rules, who have broken our laws.

QUESTION I see. And when you were talking about these incentives, the savings accounts and all of this, how would that work? Would part of this be -- the one agreement you mentioned you used terminology I didn't understand. Did that have to do with the Social Security credit, so they'd be able to collect Social Security when they went back to their country? And what are the other particulars of these incentive type accounts you were talking about?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are two constants here. One is this totalization notion that we have with 20-some countries around the world, which basically recognizes retirement contributions made in both countries. So, for example, if I'm working for a particular number of quarters in the United States and move to Mexico, where I'm a citizen, I'll get credit for my service while in the American system, and vice versa. It recognizes kind of portability between the two nations' retirement accounts. That's the first --

QUESTION So that means that wherever they retire and live, they can get their U.S. -- whatever they put into the U.S. system, whatever they'd be entitled to?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's based on the totalization agreement with the particular country and the terms of those --

QUESTION Oh, so the two retirement plans are kind of merged together in that regard?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, essentially, yes. You get credit for -- if you have to vest, after 10 years you can get credit for the amount of time you worked in the United States. That's the first notion. The second is, consistent with the President's calls for, say, tax-sheltered savings accounts, temporary workers would also be eligible for those so that they could amass resources either to use for retirement or buy land or start a business, or whatever.

QUESTION Are you talking about, so they would be eligible for things like the flexible spending accounts and IRAs and that kind of stuff?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we haven't gotten down to that level of specifics. The notion is the tax-sheltered accounts.

QUESTION I've got two things I wanted to ask you about. One is the mechanism of -- clearly, with the workers who were already here, are in jobs, as you say, that sort of shows the marketplace needs them. In the McCain-Kolbe-Flake plan, they have a notion of a website where you'd have to go post a job for 14 days, any American could go on it and apply; if no American applies, then a temporary worker visa is issued. Is there some sort of mechanism like that here?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's something that we want to work out with Congress. The fundamental principle behind the program is that American workers need to come first and we need to protect them and make sure that there are no available American workers for the job. And exactly how that's accomplished is something that we need to work with Congress to determine. But clearly there are ways to do it and we can find a way that is workable and efficient and puts American workers first.

QUESTION The other thing is about enforcement. Clearly, one of the long-term problems with immigration, illegal immigration, is that if you make it into the U.S. you can get a job because internal enforcement is pretty weak. One of the problems is that I can just buy a fake Social Security card for fifty bucks and show it to an employer and he looks at it and says, you have the right to work here. You're talking about strengthening that enforcement. Does that mean that you're going to put more agents, for example, on internal enforcement? Can we expect to see the kinds of workplace raids that we saw up until the early 1990s?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first, as my colleague mentioned, and this is more his area, is the need for technology. Biometric indicators, and the like, will make fake paperwork and so forth much more difficult to forge. And also, on the border patrol side, obviously, we've had tremendous increases in resources for the border -- $500 million increase over the last couple of years, a thousand more border agents, and so forth. So those resources are ramping up. We do envision strict penalties for employers who violate this and for nationals who do, as well.

QUESTION And that might include, besides putting more people on the border, putting more people -- investigators to look at that, in terms of interior enforcement?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION Just a question about the biometric indicators. One thing is to have a visa in which -- one of these temporary visas that is tamper proof. The other is, I can claim to be a U.S. citizen if I just show a Social Security card and a driver's license. To make that more tamper-proof, are you talking about perhaps something like a national kind of ID that would be given to everyone, so that no one could claim to be, for example, a U.S. citizen, they would have to have something more tamper-proof that they could show?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. This is a temporary worker program.

QUESTION No, but you understand the question, is that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I do. That's not embodied here, obviously.

QUESTION No kind of, sort of, national ID, or anything like that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.

QUESTION There are a couple bills pending in the Congress that have gotten some support, ag jobs and dream act. Is the administration going to take a position on those bills?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We missed the first part of your question. Can you repeat it?

QUESTION There are a couple of bills pending in Congress, not as ambitious as what you're talking about, but it's ag jobs and the dream act. And is the administration going to take a position on those bills as part of this immigration initiative?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, clearly, agricultural workers could be eligible for -- as one group of eligible participants in a temporary worker program that's more generic. Whether students -- whether work would be defined as going to school, as well, those are just things that we'd need to work out with the Congress. Both the McCain -- more generic McCain and Cornyn proposals are somewhat aligned, although some of the details vary with this notion of a non-sector specific portable temporary worker program.

QUESTION So your proposal would supersede, say, the ag jobs bill that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The ag program could be subsumed as part of a more generic temporary worker program.

QUESTION And is there a timetable to this? Does the President want the Congress to act this year? Or how long do you perceive that this will take?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, Ricardo, these are very tough issues. And there has been some interest on the Hill. Some hearings will be forthcoming, and the like. Obviously, we intend to move apace and aggressively on this. But I certainly wouldn't handicap congressional action at all, would you?

QUESTION Especially the Senate, right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, who knows.

QUESTION Now, just to be clear, there is a path for somebody who has this temporary worker status to apply for a green card, and eventually U.S. citizenship. But you're saying that it is the regular path. Once you're in this -- in the temporary worker program, at any time you can apply for a green card, but basically that is another process that starts at that point.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct. And the queue is sufficiently long, and the capacity sufficiently limited, so that the term of the temporary worker program and the need to return to the foreign country or to the home country would be less than that which took to get through the line.

QUESTION But then you're saying the term could be extended.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we are. But I guess what I'm trying to -- I'm not trying to let you get a complete match-up between people in the temporary worker program -- I don't want you to say, this is -- 8 million people get opportunity for a green card, because that's not the case. Again, trying to separate the notion of the temporary worker program, which has a term, which contemplates return to the foreign -- to the home country, incentives to do so, et cetera, and meanwhile, back at the ranch, the normal legal permanent status/green card/citizenship process.

QUESTION And the term of the temporary worker program, again, is that to be worked out with Congress, or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President -- it's three years. He believes it should be initially a three-year program with the opportunity to be renewed.

END OF TRANSCRIPT ...

Here's a question: how many people actually think the president expects to or even wants this 'policy' to pass?

Heres a well-thought-out contrary

Here's a well-thought-out contrary opinion on the Plame matter on a blog called Complex Now. The author says he doesn't think the Plame perps knew she was covert and provides the best argument supporting that conclusion.

I actually agree with some of what he says, but not all. And I'll try to explain where I agree and disagree in a subsequent post. My own sense of how this happened is that it was done quickly and without thinking through the consequences, either the political ones or those for the country.

Also on the Plame matter, here's my latest column in the Hill which explains why I think they did know and why it would almost be worse if they didn't.

More on this soon.

Theres been buzz for

There's been buzz for the last day or so that one of the candidate's internal tracking polls (not Clark's) has Clark pulling ahead of Kerry in New Hampshire. Today's ARG daily New Hampshire tracking poll has him drawing even with Kerry (Dean 37%, Kerry 14%, Clark 14%.)

Are we at the tipping point?

In today's "Off to the Races" column, Charlie Cook says: "As the Iowa caucuses get closer, the outlook for the Democratic nomination gets murkier and murkier."

In New Hampshire, one thing the ARG poll seems to show clearly is that Dean is rock solid at about 37% or 38%, moving neither up nor down. That's a commanding lead. But it leaves lots of non-Dean voters out there.

One of the greatest

One of the greatest rhetorical and moral challenges of opinion writing is how to respond to or critique aggressively dishonest or tendentious arguments. One part of you wants to discuss the underlying issue with its complexities and ambiguities intact --- and every issue has complexities and ambiguities. But, in battles of ideas, decibels and clarity matter. And, to take up a different sort of metaphor, the niceties of conflict resolution are hardly appropriate or sensible if you’re trapped in a dark alley with a couple mafia goons.

A case in point is the increasingly brazen tendency for conservative columnists to label any critical discussion of neoconservatism as a form of anti-Semitic diatribe.

Let me point you toward one recent example from a December 31st column by Joel Mowbray. Here are the first three grafs …

Discussing the Iraq war with the Washington Post last week, former General Anthony Zinni took the path chosen by so many anti-Semites: he blamed it on the Jews.

Neither President Bush nor Vice-President Cheney—nor for that matter Zinni’s old friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell—was to blame. It was the Jews. They “captured” both Bush and Cheney, and Powell was merely being a “good soldier.”

Technically, the former head of the Central Command in the Middle East didn’t say “Jews.” He instead used a term that has become a new favorite for anti-Semites: “neoconservatives.” As the name implies, “neoconservative” was originally meant to denote someone who is a newcomer to the right. In the 90’s, many people self-identified themselves as “neocons,” but today that term has become synonymous with “Jews.”


So Tony Zinni, retired four-star general, former head of Centcom, a tough critic of the Iraq war and its architects, is an anti-Semite. And the basis for this is his criticism of neoconservatives.

Here’s another example, from Tuesday’s column by David Brooks in the Times …

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for "conservative" and neo is short for "Jewish") travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he's shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

It's true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation. All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line, Bush wouldn't know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. (If you ever read a sentence that starts with "Neocons believe," there is a 99.44 percent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.)

Still, there are apparently millions of people who cling to the notion that the world is controlled by well-organized and malevolent forces. And for a subset of these people, Jews are a handy explanation for everything.


The Brooks’ example is a bit more gussied up. But the essential point is the same.

First, on the accusations --- subtle or crass --- of anti-Semitism.

We’ve now gone from arguments where anti-Semitism is perceived at the margins of critiques of neoconservative intellectuals to the current practice in which it is treated as a given that 'neoconservative' is simply a code word for Jew and criticisms of the same are one shade or another of anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear on what’s going on here.

Pressure groups exist in politics. The loose association of people generally termed 'neoconservative' use the term to describe themselves. And while no group is monolithic in its thinking, they generally think of themselves as a group and act in that fashion. We can get into a discussion at some other point about the fine points of intellectual history and note that intellectual or ideological movements are as much social constructs tethered to specific institutions as they are coherent and consistent textbook philosophies which remain the same over time. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The point is that this is an ideological group in American politics. The people who are a part of it see it as such, as do its critics and opponents. And yet many now want to use blanket criticisms of anti-Semitism to stigmatize and ward off any and all criticism.

It’s almost like a thuggishly rhetorical assertion of intellectual property rights. Neoconservatives can use the term and talk about their movement as a movement. But it’s off-limits for opponents --- sort of like how trademark holder Nike can use the phrase “Just Do It” but if Reebok tried, Nike would sue.

Not only is this dishonest. It's a conscious cheapening of the charge of anti-Semitism that should be roundly and vociferously criticized.

Another point.

In Brooks’ column, aside from the anti-Semitism stuff I’ve noted, we can see another common ploy. In fact, it makes up almost the entirety of Brooks’ column.

The aim is to discredit any notion that neoconservatism plays any significant role in Bush administration foreign policy --- a demonstrably ridiculous point. Brooks does this by mixing in all sorts of code words about ‘conspiracies’, ‘jews’, radio communications through dental filings and the like to stigmatize as ridiculous what is actually a serious issue and ripe field for serious debate.

It’s almost the definition of anti-intellectualism.

Here’s a particular example from the second graf of Brooks’ column …



Theories about the tightly knit neocon cabal came in waves. One day you read that neocons were pushing plans to finish off Iraq and move into Syria. Web sites appeared detailing neocon conspiracies; my favorite described a neocon outing organized by Dick Cheney to hunt for humans.



This is really classic. First, a demonstrably accurate point, neocons pushing for forcible regime change in Syria followed by some story about Dick Cheney’s hunting trip to hunt humans.

How do you respond to something like this?

Sort of like …



So many crazy stories out there. One minute people are claiming that jumbo-jets are flying from New York to Paris. The next day we hear that flying saucers are beaming people up to space and spiriting them away to Mars …



Finally, a small confession. Both of the writers I've discussed above are what I guess you'd call casual acquaintances -- at least people I've met on several occasions in the past and almost certainly will again. So there's a natural or I guess unavoidable tendency to resist calling their arguments dishonest or tendentious -- and referring to them by name. But what else is possible or appropriate when they're slandering and maligning whole categories of people?

What's being practiced here isn't argument. These are rhetorical brickbats meant to squelch argument. The whole thing is disinformation from start to finish.

White House press secretary

"White House press secretary Scott McClellan declined to say Monday whether President Bush thinks his aides should sign forms that would release reporters from any pledges of confidentiality regarding the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame."

That's the lede from Mike Allen's piece in tomorrow's Post.

The invaluable Chris Nelson

The invaluable Chris Nelson, on the latest on the North Korea front, in this evening's Nelson Report ...

1. The current "news" is that, first, N. Korea says it won't come back to the 6-party talks until it gets financial inducements which the U.S. continues to say it won't approve; and, second, two private U.S. delegations are in and/or enroute to North Korea, and that the White House did not stop them, as it did policy critic and Congressman Kurt Weldon (R-Pa.) last year.

-- more on the 6 party talks later. Apparently in N. Korea is a group including former State Dept. negotiator Amb. Chuck Pritchard, now of Brookings, who was basically pushed out of the DPRK liaison slot by Vice President Cheney's office, with help from Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

2. Expected to arrive soon is a Congressional "staff del" on behalf of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar (Keith Luse) and Ranking Dem Joe Biden (Frank Jannuzi), on a reprise of their private mission of last summer.

-- critics point out that what Luse, Jannuzi and Pritchard have in common, and what puts them in the "untrustworthy" category for Administration hard liners, is that all three have extensive, face-to-face experience talking with senior N. Korean officials about the issues which the hardliners claim are so mysterious.

3. Initial press accounts tried to reflect ROK Government optimism that by allowing the two missions, the White House was sending a covert "signal" of a more open attitude toward dealing with the DPRK…but any such spin was firmly shot down over the weekend.

-- it's significant that "pro-engagement" sources reinforce the initial statement by State's Adam Ereli that while State holds the Congressional staff delegation in the highest personal and professional regard, they frankly see more risk than opportunity from the visit: "Certainly any efforts that complicate prospects or undertakings to reconvene the six-party talks and to achieve forward movement in dismantling North Korea's nuclear program aren't helpful".

4. Today, a highly placed source explains, "The Administration is always concerned when the DPRK seems to want to negate the 6-party talks mechanism and pursue separate channels, particularly with American groups. We think the opportunities for mischief in this are neither remote nor small, and I say that with full respect for Messrs Luse and Jannuzi…".

-- following up on Ereli's official remarks last Friday, this source elaborates: "Contrary to the [initial press coverage of the two delegations] neither…goes with any approval, mandate, briefings or message from the Administration."

5. On the 6 Party talks, Russia and China today apparently failed to come up with compromise language which would allow a resumption, which they now concede would not be until February, at the earliest.

-- Russia/China tried to take up the long-standing DPRK offer of a "freeze" on its nuclear activities, but seem to have run headlong into today's reiteration by Pyongyang that it wants to be paid…this, despite President Bush's prompt rejection of a freeze during the U.S./China summit, followed by a the mid-December reiteration of the hardliner position that Pyongyang must agree to "irreversible" dismantling of its nuclear programs.

6. Sources confirm press stories from Dec. 19 that Vice President Cheney continues to play a critical role in enforcing a hard line, something that Amb. Pritchard has charged repeatedly, since retiring from the State Department.

-- according to involved players, Cheney led the way in rejecting an earlier Chinese compromise effort, although his concern was portrayed as more tactical than strategic. Cheney insisted that a press statement prior to any 6-party resumption would have to contain the "mantra" about "irreversible" etc.

7. Informed engager sources concede that while no one can object to the goal, Cheney's requirement that China and the other participants agree in advance in a pre-negotiation press statement "was enough to block any chance of coming to the table at this point."


With these late details in mind, see this piece by Fred <$Ad$>Kaplan in today's Slate.

Last week, administration boosters (either misunderstanding or intentionally distorting)made out as though the departure of this delegation was a sign that the NKs were folding in the face of Saddam's capture and the general success of regime change in Iraq.

The truth is rather different. As we've noted in these pages before, for roughly a year now, the administration has been walking back from its own policy toward North Korea -- first holding negotiations it said it would never hold, then broaching security assurances it said it would never guarantee, and then -- contrary to previous statements -- offering the prospect of new aid even before comprehensive disarmament.

The movement hasn't been linear or clean -- more like a series of wiggly gyres. But the overall direction has been fairly clear. The question now is whether the White House can ditch its failed policy once and for all and begin to move forward.

Oh what a difference

Oh what a difference having a dog in the fight makes ...

A few days ago the Post's Mike Allen got Victoria "typical Washington talk" Toensing to let us in on the Plame perps' 'we didn't know she was covert' legal strategy. Well, it seems Victoria was a little more hard core on the leak front before her friends (or clients?) got their hands caught in the cookie jar.

Back on September 9th 2001 she penned a piece in Post called "They Call It a Leak. I Call It a Crime."

"The leak must be investigated fully," Toensing bellowed, "if the law has any meaning. If that requires subpoenaing a reporter's phone records, so be it."

Phew! I'm pretty leery of busting up or subpoenaing the reporters in this case (an issue we'll go into further in a later post). But daaayyyuumm! That Victoria, I mean, you go girl!

In truth, of course, calling this a 'leak' is simply the way that those who want to hide or ignore this incident use to diminish its significance. The leak was only the mechanism by which the crime took place. Sort of like the Rosenberg leak or Rick Ames' leaks ...

As consequential? No. With the same treasonous intent? Of course not. But reckless indifference to national security isn't a defense, just another explanation for the crime. And as the Republicans got so fond of saying back in the 1990s: the law is the law.

The Iowa primary debate

The Iowa primary debate seemed a generally tepid affair -- it's finishing up right now. But Howard Dean signed on the dotted line of party loyalty and got the rest of the candidates on the stage to do the same. Good for all of them. Let's watch see that each sticks to it.

Fortune magazine has just

Fortune magazine has just published an interview with famed management guru Peter Drucker, whose expertise, of course, stretches into law, finance, international economics and foreign affairs. (Unfortunately, it's subscription only.) Here's one passage worth noting.

Look particularly at Drucker's comments on India and China.

FORTUNE: You sound fairly sanguine about the state of the U.S. economy. Do you see any danger signs?

DRUCKER: Oh, yes. The biggest problem I see is our total dependence on foreign money to cover our government debt. Never before has a major debtor country owed its debt in its own currency. It is unprecedented in economic history. Japan, by contrast, owes all its foreign debt in dollars. Now if you devalue the dollar, the Japanese economy benefits, because their imports become much cheaper. And the value of their debt goes down also. The individual Japanese companies that invest in dollars would lose, but the overall Japanese economy gains. But we have no experience about what will happen here when we owe so much debt in our own currency and we're forced to devalue the dollar. Sooner or later, we're going to find out.

What's more, there is an enormous amount of surplus capital in the world for which there is no productive investment. The supply greatly exceeds the demand. So there is a very jittery body of excess money that is desperately in need of returns, and it could become panic-prone. We have no economic theory or model for this.

FORTUNE: Does the U.S. still set the tone for the world economy?

DRUCKER: The dominance of the U.S. is already over. What is emerging is a world economy of blocs represented by NAFTA, the European Union, ASEAN. There's no one center in this world economy. India is becoming a powerhouse very fast. The medical school in New Delhi is now perhaps the best in the world. And the technical graduates of the Institute of Technology in Bangalore are as good as any in the world. Also, India has 150 million people for whom English is their main language. So India is indeed becoming a knowledge center.

In contrast, the greatest weakness of China is its incredibly small proportion of educated people. China has only 1.5 million college students, out of a total population of over 1.3 billion. If they had the American proportion, they'd have 12 million or more in college. Those who are educated are well trained, but there are so few of them. And then there is the enormous undeveloped hinterland with excess rural population. Yes, that means there is enormous manufacturing potential. In China, however, the likelihood of the absorption of rural workers into the cities without upheaval seems very dubious. You don't have that problem in India because they have already done an amazing job of absorbing excess rural population into the cities--its rural population has gone from 90% to 54% without any upheaval.

Everybody says China has 8% growth and India only 3%, but that is a total misconception. We don't really know. I think India's progress is far more impressive than China's.


If Drucker is right (and<$Ad$> I've always been in the camp that agrees with his general point with regards to India and China), that has vast and in most cases positive implications for America's posture across the globe. With respect to China. With respect to Pakistan. And in many other places as well.

Think how much of our broad, long-range foreign policy thinking rests on the premise that China is the rising economic and military power? What if the premise is wrong? Or what if India, nearly as large a country in population terms, is another rising behemoth? Then consider too that India is a democracy, albeit an imperfect one. It's also a rule of law based society -- again, if an imperfect one. And it's a country with hundreds of millions of English speakers and, according to Drucker, 150 million speak it as their primary language. (Update: As this page shows, Drucker's statement in this case is certainly incorrect. Only about 20 million Indians speak English as their native language. A number between 150 and 200 million properly refers to fluent English speakers.)

This is not a partisan issue in American politics, or needn't be. President Clinton began an opening to India in the 1990s and it's been continued under President Bush.

We'll return to this issue.

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