Responding to recent comments by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, President Bush said yesterday he is against offering an across-the-board amnesty to illegal workers living in the United States.

President Bush at news conference yesterday (White House photo)

Last week, Ridge told a town hall meeting in Miami, Fla., the U.S. should give illegal immigrants legal status.

At a news conference in Washington, Bush replied, “I have constantly said that we need to have an immigration policy that helps match any willing employer with any willing employee.”

“It makes sense that that policy go forward,” he continued. “And we’re in the process of working that through now so I can make a recommendation to the Congress.”

He added, however, “Let me also clarify something. This administration is firmly against blanket amnesty.”

Bush’s comments suggest he supports some version of a congressional proposal calling for more guest workers and legalization of at least 3 million illegal aliens.

In his speech last week, Ridge said, “The bottom line is, as a country we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way, but also as a country decide what our immigration policy is and then enforce it.”

Tom Ridge

Ridge was speaking at a town hall meeting at Miami-Dade Community College, the second forum in a national series organized by the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government.

He told meeting participants: “I’m not saying make them citizens, because they violated the law to get here. So you don’t reward that type of conduct by turning over a citizenship certificate. You determine how you can legalize their presence, then, as a country, you make a decision that from this day forward, from this day forward, this is the process of entry, and if you violate that process of entry we have the resources to cope with it.”

Later, Ridge’s spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said the secretary was not referring to specific legislation but to his support of measures enabling the U.S. to gather identity and residency information on illegal aliens.

“How to keep track of people who are in the country illegally has been in the forefront of our concerns since 9-11,” Roehrkasse said, according to the Cox News Service. “The secretary was talking about the 8-12 million people in the U.S. illegally. To us, it’s about our mission to secure our borders. We need some method of keeping track of where these people are.”

In Congress, a bill known as the AgJOBS Act would make millions of current migrant workers eligible for legal resident status and increase the number of agricultural guest workers. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., a sponsor of the bill, says it is building momentum for passage in the Senate, possible as early as January. It will face opposition in the House, but he believes it will pass that chamber in the first quarter of 2004.

Another pending bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003, would expand the foreign guest worker program beyond agriculture and allow illegals who have worked with a U.S. employer for a specified time to apply for legal residency.

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