Debate shirks immigrant issues - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Debate shirks immigrant issues

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Posted: Friday, October 15, 2004 11:44 am | Updated: 4:31 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Oct. 15, 2004

John Kerry said the land borders of the United States are "more leaking" than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. President Bush said he doesn’t want to reward illegal behavior, but will offer undocumented workers a guest worker pass.

Those were some of the responses given to questions posed to the presidential candidates Wednesday night about immigration, one of the most important issues for Arizona voters this year.

Debate moderator Bob Schieffer, in prefacing his question, said he received more e-mail about immigration than any other issue.

But, both candidates avoided mentioning one of the most contentious related subjects: Proposition 200, an upcoming ballot initiative aimed at withholding benefits from illegal immigrants.

And overall, the exchange on immigration lasted just a few minutes in the 90-minute debate.

Michael Nicely, the U.S. Border Patrol chief for the agency’s Tucson sector, said Thursday he believes the border is actually more secure than ever since the terror attacks three years ago.

"I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and we have never got the resources we’ve got now," Nicely said.

He noted that the southern border of the United States now has unmanned aerial vehicle flyovers, more remote cameras to spot border crossers and nearly 11,000 Border Patrol agents.

"We’ve still got a ways to go," he said.

Bush lambasted Kerry for his answer on Wednesday. But apprehensions of illegal border crossers jumped 56 percent between the federal fiscal years 2003 and 2004, from 225,108 to 351,757, government figures show. While the higher number of captures may indicate better enforcement, it also may mean more immigrants are attempting to cross.

Also, officials have said that tightened enforcement in Arizona is apparently leading to more border crossers in New Mexico and more smuggling operations in Los Angeles and other cities.

Bush also accused Kerry of supporting "amnesty for illegal aliens." Kerry said he wanted an "earned legalization" program that would reward law-abiding workers with citizenship.

Yet Bush’s own policy "is viewed by many as ‘Amnesty Light,’ " said John Keeley of the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-illegalimmigrant group. Bush’s plan, outlined earlier this year, would give undocumented workers a three-year temporary citizenship before requiring them to return to their home country.

Neither candidate said enough about immigration for Keeley’s liking, though he agreed with Kerry’s statement that the government should conduct more enforcement of the workplaces that hire undocumented workers.

"I’m glad someone in the media had the courage to ask their national candidates" about the issue, Keeley said. "I wish Schieffer would have had some follow-up."

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