| George W. Bush at the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Washington, Jan. 8: President George W. Bush is taking, what to many Indians would seem, a leaf out of the CPM’s vote bank politics.
Like Bengal’s main ruling party, which legalised illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Bush yesterday announced steps which would make the presence of at least eight million illegal aliens in the US legal.
But unlike in Bengal, where ration cards were systematically made available in violation of rules to those who sneaked across the border with Bangladesh and legality was conferred on the migrants by short-circuiting the law, Bush has created a programme through which illegal workers can become legal.
Most of the eight million illegal aliens are Hispanics, the majority of them from neighbouring Mexico, but a few thousand Indians are also expected to benefit from the amnesty, which the White House is loath to call an amnesty. Under the programme, which the President personally unveiled amidst a blaze of publicity, a temporary worker programme would juxtapose workers against US employers who cannot find American citizens to fill jobs. Immigrants who are already working in the country illegally when the programme goes into effect and foreigners wanting to come to the US to take up such work which Americans do not want to do could participate in the scheme.
Such workers will enjoy the same protection under the law which American workers are entitled to and their employers can apply with immigration authorities for such workers to be made Green Card-holders while remaining in their employment. A three-year worker permit issued to an illegal alien could be renewed for an unspecified period.
Republican electoral strategists expect that if the scheme works, it could swing the large Hispanic vote in the US in favour of Bush in this year’s presidential election.
Hispanics have overtaken Blacks in sheer numbers among the US population, but their voting age population is about 10 per cent according to various demographic surveys.
In the presidential election in 2000, Al Gore got 66 per cent of the Hispanic vote compared to 32 per cent for Bush. The President has already sewn up the Jewish vote more or less in his favour by his unalloyed support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s extremist policies.
More than the numbers involved in the Hispanic vote, Bush is eyeing their concentration: if Hispanic Americans swing to his side because of yesterday’s announcement, it is very likely that the big states where they are present — California, New York, Florida and Texas — will go with the Republicans, making the 2004 election a walkover for the President.
All the same, he has taken a big gamble in legalising the illegal aliens. White conservative voters, especially in the south, are angry with yesterday’s announcement because they consider the measure as a reward for those who entered the US illegally.
Conservative opinion makers have already expressed fears that the amnesty will encourage even more Latinos to sneak into the US without papers. The favours announced yesterday will apply only to undocumented workers, that is, those who came without passports and will not cover an Indian, for instance, who overstayed his visa.
Political aides to Bush calculate that conservatives will not, however, defect to his Democratic rival, more so if Howard Dean, who is being portrayed as a Leftist, is the nominee of the Opposition. One group which has expressed joy over the new programme are the employers. As past amnesties and similar measures have shown, they will be able to drive down wages and hold alien workers hostage to the promise of permanent residence.