Kyl Backs Limited Guest-Worker Program

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona talks about immigration legislation with Renee Montagne. Kyl is one of the people backing a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to get temporary work permits for up to five years, before being forced to leave the U.S.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We spoke on this program yesterday, with Senator Kennedy. Joining us this morning, is Senator Kyl.

Welcome to the program.

Senator JOHN KYL (Republican, Arizona): Thank you. Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You voted against this legislation to put undocumented workers on a path to citizenship and you offered a different proposal: a five-year program for temporary workers. Tell us about that.

Sen. KYL: Proposal that Senator Cornyn and I have written, would provide a way for us to incorporate the people who are illegally in our country today, into a temporary worker program-but without putting them on an automatic path to citizenship. It wouldn't preclude that, but in order to become a citizen of the United States, they would have to go back to their home country and apply just like everyone else.

MONTAGNE: Just quickly, this is Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Republican.

Sen. KYL: That's right. We had a bill that was based on a lot of research that the Pugh Hispanic Research Center did, asking Mexican nationals if they would participate in a program that would them have able to work in the United States for five years and then return home. 71 percent of them said yes, that they would do that. And, we talked to Mexican government officials who assured us that what they wanted for their citizens was what they call circularity, where people would come into the country for a period of time, and then return to their home country. Most of the people who came here to work did not come here to become citizens, and think that's the most troubling aspect of the bill that passed out of the committee yesterday.

MONTAGNE: How many workers, though, would we be talking about in a five-year temporary worker program?

Sen. KYL: It's unclear how many people are actually here illegally, but if one takes the numbers of about 12 million, the assumption is that at least seven or eight of those million would want to, or are currently working. And presumption is that at least most of them would conitnue to want to work.

MONTAGNE: If you're talking millions of workers in a temporary program, is it realistic to think that even though they may say they'll leave the country in five years, that they will leave the country in five years?

Sen. KYL: Understand, what will be in place in five years will be a system of employer and employee verification that will make it impossible for anybody to get a job who doesn't have proper documents, and those documents will be part of a new system, where the social security numbers are electronically verified, so that within a matter of two or three years, it's not gonna possible to be employed in this country if you're illegal.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about the legislation that the Senate committee actually has passed. One of your Republican colleagues, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, says it's not an amnesty. Participants would have to work for six years before they could even apply for a green card. They have to pay a fine, back taxes, learn English. What's wrong with that?

Sen. KYL: Well, first of all, let's go to this matter of going to the back of the line. The line is not in the United States. The line of people waiting to come to the United States with a green card, what's called legal, permanent residency, forms in the country from which you come. It's in Mexico, or El Salvador, or China. That's where the line is, and nobody is being asked to go to the back of the line under this legislation. They stay in the United States. And yes, one of the conditions is that they're supposed to work. Well, they came here to work. They're working illegally today, and they would continue to work. That's not punishment, and of course, they earn money from that, and presumably, they'd pay their taxes. They should. But it does give an unfair advantage for those people then to be granted a path to citizenship over those back in the home country who are still waiting to come to the United States.

MONTAGNE: Only four of the ten Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee supported this bill. So, going forward, what are the prospects for this legislation?

Sen. KYL: It depends. My guess is if all of the Democrats remain in lock-step on it--that is to say, they all support it, then it only takes a handful of Republicans to provide the majority vote for it to pass. So, it could well pass in the United States Senate.

MONTAGNE: Senator Kyl, thanks very much.

Sen. KYL: You're very welcome.

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