Last week, both houses of Congress having passed immigration reform legislation, President Bush spoke on immigration again. Because he called for less “harsh language and unnecessary politics,” the corporate media has interpreted his speech as pro-immigrant.

But Bush has followed a consistent policy of suppressing the rights of the foreign born while promising big business cheap labor in the form of foreign guest workers.

In December 2005, when the viciously anti-immigrant HR 4437, the Sensenbrenner bill, which would turn undocumented immigrants and people who help them into felons, was rammed through the House, Bush supported it. And the policies Bush announced in his speech last week have nothing moderate about them:

* Workplace raids are being stepped up, even though many people now being deported might have been legalized eventually.

* National Guard troops are being sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. Local police will be given training for immigration enforcement.

* All employers will be required to check the immigration status of people they hire, through a government electronic database.

* Many more immigrants will be subjected to detention and deportation without due process, and politically connected contractors will build massive new prison camps.

* Social Security “No Match” letters, sent to employers when the Social Security numbers of their employees do not match up with the government’s data, will be used for aggressive enforcement.

* Bush called again for a guest worker program in which workers must “return home” after their stint, i.e. should not have access to permanent residency, as Senate Bill 2611 would allow.

* He supports earned legalization for undocumented immigrants who have “worked here for many years,” but not more recent arrivals. This is in line with S 2611, which offers legalization to those who have been here for five years, guest worker status for those who have been here two to five years, and the boot for the rest.

“Moderate” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) shifted the Senate legislation in an anti-immigrant direction by stuffing his February draft legislation with repressive language from HR 4437. Then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) lent his own support to the anti-immigrant efforts by introducing an enforcement-only bill, while at the same time imposing an unrealistic time limit for finishing legislation. Although pro-immigrant Democrats strove to amend the negative elements, the clock ran out on them, and Republican “moderates” failed to support them.

So now the joint House-Senate conference committee must reconcile the totally anti-immigrant HR 4437 with S 2611, which has some positive and some very negative elements. Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) says that over his dead body will any legislation be passed that gives “amnesty” or legalization to a single undocumented immigrant, and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) says that nothing will pass without the support of a majority of House Republicans. However, it is likely that they will agree to “compromise” with Bush and the Senate version by at least in including a labor-unfriendly guest worker program.

The danger is that a “compromise” between the Senate and House versions be passed that legalizes few or no immigrants, brings in a guest worker program with no escape hatch to legal residency and no labor protections, and greatly increases the repression of millions of undocumented immigrants who can not get legalization. They will not return to countries where there is no work for them, and will be forced to accept even worse pay and working conditions, to the detriment of all workers.

Bush seems to want credit for a bill being signed before the November elections. But the Republicans also need undocumented immigrants as a collective “Willie Horton” to motivate their core voters, because things are going badly for them in all other respects. In fact, the GOP may well lose its majorities in both houses of Congress.

If that happens, there may be a much more favorable situation for passing progressive, comprehensive immigration reform. Many immigrants’ rights advocates are saying that it would be better to have a stalemate this year than a bad bill. But nobody can count on this; it is necessary to keep marching, protesting and fighting for the best possible language in the ongoing debate in the conference committee.

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