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February 2001, Volume 8, Number 2

Bush Administration, LIFE

Chavez/Chao. President Bush nominated Linda Chavez to be Secretary of Labor. She promised to "keep faith with the men and the women who still work at [manual] jobs like those my parents held." Chavez, who headed the US English organization in 1987-88, opposes a higher minimum wage and affirmative action policies. She was expected to support Bush's plan to make it easier for union members to receive rebates for the portion of their union dues that is used for political activities, and to allow states to opt out of federal minimum wage increases.

The AFL-CIO announced that unions would try to prevent her confirmation, allying with civil rights groups. In a statement announcing its opposition, the AFL-CIO said that Chavez "has spent the past 20 years opposing just about every important program, from the minimum wage to affirmative action to so many things important to working families."

Chavez's nomination ran into trouble after it was revealed that she permitted an unauthorized Guatemalan, Marta Mercado, to live in her home in 1991-92. Chavez said that she was helping a woman in need, not hiring an unauthorized migrant. Union leaders emphasized that Chavez may have "violated the law in an area that has become so important, the area of obeying the nation's immigration laws." Mercado eventually returned to the US legally and lives in the Washington DC area.

Chavez withdrew her name from consideration. In 1993, President Clinton's nominee to be Attorney General, Zoë Baird, withdrew from consideration after it was revealed that she had employed several illegal immigrants and had not paid Social Security taxes on their wages.

Elaine Chao, a former Peace Corps director and the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was named to replace Chavez. Chao is an Asian-American who immigrated from Taiwan at the age of eight and went on to head the Peace Corps and the United Way.

Ex-Senator John Ashcroft from Missouri was confirmed on February 1 by a vote of 58-42 to be Attorney General. In response to written questions, Ashcroft said that he supported President Bush's proposal to split the INS into two agencies, one focused on enforcement and the other dealing with service. Ashcroft said, "legal immigrants should be welcomed with respect and open arms, and service delivered to legal immigrants should not be delivered with suspicion or hostility . . . while at the same time allowing for the swift removal of serious or violent criminals."

The INS is an agency of the Justice Department headed by the Attorney General, and ex-Representative Bill McCollum (R-FL) was mentioned as a likely INS Commissioner.

The Senate Immigration subcommittee is likely to be headed by Sam Brownback (R-KS); the House Immigration subcommittee by George W. Gekas (R-PA). Gekas said he favors the H-1B program "to help American companies pursue their highest potential…. However, we must be mindful to strike a balance between helping the business community while retaining jobs for American workers."

LIFE. Immigrant advocates said that the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (LIFE) approved in December 2000 did not go far enough to provide immigrant status to Central Americans. Maria Echaveste, White House deputy chief of staff, said "Republicans were dead set against anything for Central Americans, it's that simple."

Misinformation and confusion about LIFE has been widespread. Spanish language ads urge illegal migrants to learn how they can become legal US residents, promising green cards for several thousand dollars. Immigration lawyers are reportedly being swamped with calls, and there are warnings of widespread fraud, as migrants pay fees for worthless "applications."

The INS has issued statements emphasizing that there is no new amnesty, and Los Angeles County has a toll-free telephone number with information in 10 languages.

LIFE: (1) allows an estimated 400,000 unauthorized foreigners to apply for legalization if they can prove they entered the US before January 1, 1982, and lived in the US "continuously" between 1982 and 1988; (2) establishes a new V-visa program for an estimated 500,000 family members of legal immigrants who have been waiting for the INS to deal with their applications for green cards for at least three years; and (3) re-establishes the 1994-98 245(i) program for four months, until April 30, 2001, which may enable 200,000 unauthorized foreigners in the US awaiting immigrant visas to pay a $1,000 fine instead of having to leave the US and obtain their immigrant visas at a US consulate abroad. If the applicants for immigrant visas are in the US illegally and have to return to their countries of origin to get visas, they may be barred from legal re-entry for three or ten years.

Patrick J. Mcdonnell, "New law, misinformation bewilder immigrants," Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2001. Todd Nelson, "Immigrants race to apply for legal residency," St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 14, 2001. Ned Glascock, "Law's changes ease road for immigrants," Raleigh news and Observer, January 14, 2001. Leonel Sanchez, "INS is clear on new law: no amnesty," San Diego Union-Tribune, January 15, 2001. Minerva Canto, "Talk of new amnesty misleads," Orange county Register, January 15, 2001. Jenifer B. Mckim, "'Now we have rights,' janitors say, as they ok first contract," Orange County Register, January 14, 2001. Eric Schmitt, "Americans a) Love b) Hate Immigrants," New York Times, January 14, 2000. Steven A. Holmes, "Illegal Immigrant Lived With Chavez," New York Times, January 7, 2001. Steven Greenhouse, "Union Leaders Plan Fight Against Bush's Labor Selection," New York Times, January 7, 2001.