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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Carlos Gutierrez
Secretary of Commerce
June 1, 2006

Carlos Gutierrez
I am delighted to be here to discuss the importance issue of immigration reform. This is an emotional and sensitive issue. But we need to find a middle ground that protects national security and makes immigration legal, safe, and humane.

The President has stated that we need comprehensive reform and what that must include. Congress is moving forward with legislation to reform our immigration system. We look forward to them working out their differences and coming up with a compromise. And with that, I would like to open up our discussion to questions.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Gutierrez: When it comes to immigration, the borders seemed to be the hot spot. The President has ordered the National Guard to help the Border Patrol on the issue. What if anything has or is Mexico doing about the issue? Thank You

Carlos Gutierrez
Cliff, that’s a great question. Let me begin by pointing out that protecting the border is a shared responsibility that we both recognize, and we acknowledge that more needs to be done.

On immigration, the Mexican government has acknowledged our shared responsibility to control illegal migration. President Fox has made clear that we have a common interest in addressing border security for the benefit of all our citizens. Furthermore, Mexico has recognized that migrants come to the United States because they cannot find work in Mexico, pledged to update Mexico’s immigration laws, promoted the return of migrants to Mexico, and reiterated their commitment to fight human smuggling.

We know that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. There is no easy fix, but it can be accomplished through comprehensive reforms.

President Bush has been very clear and has stated that comprehensive immigration reform must include interior enforcement, a temporary worker protection program and better border protection. Increasing our presence on the border with the National Guard is a necessary measure that will strengthen America’s border security, prevent the entry of possible terrorists and deter illegal activity.

Our relationship with Mexico is solid. They are an important trading partner and our trading relationship has helped to create jobs on both sides of the border. Nevertheless we will work to develop a rational approach to safe and orderly immigration.

Ben, from Menomonee Falls, WI writes:
With the Legislative branch of the United States government bicameral, there can be some disagreements. The House of Representatives think that the Guest Worker Program is sort of amnesty. Since the Senate has finally agreed on an immigration bill, how do you think that the different Houses of Congress can agree on an immigration bill. The Senate seems to think that the Guest Worker program is good and the House of Representatives think it is bad and amnesty. Is there a system in which both houses can agree on?

Carlos Gutierrez
Thanks for your question, Ben. As I mentioned before, for many people, the debate on immigration reform is an emotional and sensitive issue. People approach the issue with deeply held beliefs and principles. But we need to find a rational middle ground.

There is consensus on one component of immigration reform – that we need to better secure our borders. We believe that a temporary worker program is important, not just for economic reasons but because of the critical role such a program plays in helping to secure our borders. By creating a legal means for workers to temporarily enter the United States we can reduce the flow of illegal immigrants. This will allow our border security agents to focus on catching terrorists, drug smugglers, and those who mean this country harm.

I am confident that the House and Senate can work out a compromise that secures our borders and provides a way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans are not available to do. This will not be an easy debate, but we owe it to the American people to give them solutions to these challenges.

seneque, from Miami, Florida writes:
Hi,My Question is: Will the new Immigration law be in favor of Mexican nationals only, or of all nationalities?

Carlos Gutierrez
You bring up a very interesting issue, Seneque. The reforms under discussion will apply to all foreign workers regardless of their country of origin. In fact, several of the provisions under discussion will benefit highly-skilled workers from countries such as India and China.

Eva, from Los Angeles writes:
If the House and the Senate agree in some kind of legalization for the undocumented people already in our country, how long will it take for the program to be implemented? Thanks

Carlos Gutierrez
Eva, good question. The amount of time will depend on the characteristics of the final bill. The Temporary Worker Program (TWP) in the President’s plan would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time.

TWP provides a legal way to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans are not available to do. Temporary workers coming into our country would be required to pass a criminal background check. After passing this check, foreign workers participating in this program would be matched with willing American employers that have jobs where Americans aren’t available to work. Filling these jobs contributes to sustaining our Nation’s economic progress. After an allotted period of time, temporary workers must return to their home country.

TWP is a crucial component of securing the borders. By reducing the flow of illegal immigrants, law enforcement can focus on catching terrorists, drug smugglers, and those who mean this country harm.

Karti, from NewYork writes:
Dear Mr.Secretary, May I ask you a question about the retrogression of visa dates for professionals from India. Professionals from India on a H1b who have filed for the green card under EB2EB3 categories, the priority date for filing the I485 petition has been retrogressed by a couple of years.As a result there is a huge backlog and is causing significant delays in obtaining the GC and we are stuck with the same employer for many number of years, hindering our personal and professional goals. And also there is a chance that some employer can misuse this on their employees. My question is, why did'nt the congress take up this issue in the immigration bill. Your thoughts on this please. Thank you for your valuable time. Best Regards.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thanks for your question Karti. You raise an issue that is often overlooked in the immigration discussion about what reforms should be made to attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world. As Commerce Secretary, I get to see every day the way innovation plays a critical role in driving our economic growth and sustaining our competitive edge in a global economy.

The President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) calls for making needed reforms that enhance our nation’s ability to attract the best minds from around the world and put them to work for America’s businesses. We were very pleased that the Senate immigration bill included reforms to both the H-1B visa and employment based (EB) green card processes. Specifically, the bill raises the cap on H-1B visas for highly educated temporary workers, raises the EB visa cap with exemptions for certain categories of workers, and exempts from the H-1B cap and EB visa caps workers who have earned an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from U.S. higher education institutions.

We look forward to continue working with members of Congress to pass these critical reforms to address the current backlogs and ensure American maintains its competitive edge.

Craig, from Hayward, CA writes:
Why isn't there more focus on enforcing the law against employers who are not taking appropriate precautions in hiring?That's far more effective than the pursuit of the aliens directly, and the lack of enforcement implies a desire to facilitate 'cheap labor'.

Carlos Gutierrez
Great question, Craig. You’re absolutely correct that worksite enforcement is a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform.

This Administration has more than doubled the resources used for worksite enforcement. But employers still confront the difficulty of verifying the legal status of their employees due to fraudulent documents and IDs. To help businesses verify the legal status of their employers, we believe that legal foreign workers should be issued biometric, tamper proof identification cards.

The Administration also supports the use of the a Basic Pilot system that allows employers to quickly and accurately confirm the work status of new employees by checking their information against Federal databases. The President's FY 2007 budget requests $111 million to expand the program. Congress needs to make this program mandatory and provide the Department of Homeland Security with the authority and resources needed to make it work.

The President has always said that employers have a responsibility to abide by our laws. These tools would leave employers with no excuse for violating the law and it would help us better enforce the law. The businesses that knowingly employ illegal workers are undermining those laws, violating the public trust, and most importantly, are contributing to the problem of illegal immigration. Those businesses need to know that this Administration will not tolerate it.

George, from Florida writes:
Why try to mandate English as the national language?It would be much better to welcome immigrants. I teach English to Latinos and I have never met one who is not eager to learn English. English becomes the first language of their children. No one need worry that these immigrants will somehow make Spanish an official language. Why not leave things as they are?

Carlos Gutierrez
Thanks for the question, George, and for the opportunity to clear up a lot of unnecessary confusion around this issue.

As you point out, English is the key to unlocking the opportunity of America, and Americans are bound together by an ability to speak and write the English language. For this reason, a broad bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate recently recognized that English is both our "national" language and a "common and unifying" language. But the Senate bill does not make English the "official" language of the United States, and it does not require "English only" to be spoken.

The President does not believe in "English only," and he does not support changing programs that currently assist people in languages other than English. Rather, the President believes the success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, they renew our spirit, and they add to the unity of America.

Rodgers, from Hillsboro,Ohio writes:
Mr. Secretary: How is it in the best interest of American commerce to have an a continual flow of illegal aliens and drugs across our borders? Thank you, Rodgers

Carlos Gutierrez
It is not in our nation's best interest to have a continual flow of drugs and illegal workers across our borders. Illegal immigration puts a strain on law enforcement personnel and public resources. Our ultimate objective is to keep the border open to trade and tourism, and closed to criminals, drug dealers and terrorists.

The President takes this very seriously which is why his plan includes increasing the number of Border Patrol agents by an additional 6,000 by 2008 for a total of 18,000. To give you some context for that number, it represents a doubling of the size of the Border Patrol since the President took office.

We must also confront the reality that there are 12 million undocumented individuals who form an underground economy. It is in our best interest to bring these workers out of the shadows so we know who they are. A rational, reasonable approach promoted by the President and under consideration by Congress requires illegal immigrants who have roots in our country to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, paying their taxes, learning English and passing a criminal background check. Individuals who meet these conditions should be permitted to apply for citizenship, but they would have to go to the back of the line behind those who followed the rules. This is not amnesty. It penalizes those who broke our laws.

Finally, a Temporary Worker Program is critical for ensuring that foreign workers have a legal means by which to pursue jobs that are available but that Americans are not available to do. Not having such a program may only increase pressure on the borders. A Temporary Worker Program strengthens our security by guaranteeing that we know who is in our country and why they are here.

Roy, from New Mexico writes:
How do you expect to get tough on illegals in America if we don't build a wall or militarize our border?

Carlos Gutierrez
Roy, the President supports building fences in strategic areas such as urban corridors, but truly securing our borders requires a more extensive strategy. Building a wall alone will not solve the problem.

The President is dramatically expanding the number of Border Patrol agents and deploying 6,000 National Guard units to assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training.

At the same time, we are using advanced technology to create a "virtual fence" that employs motion sensors, infrared cameras, and unmanned aerial vehicles to detect and prevent illegal crossings.

Today, the President spoke about the role businesses can play in helping us enforce our immigration laws by giving legal workers biometric cards so that employers can verify their legal status. By giving employers tools to verify the legal status of newly hired workers - such as biometric ID cards and online employment verification systems - we can further help strengthen our interior enforcement.

Whatever we do we must be thoughtful about it and anything we do must not be a quick fix, but rather comprehensive reform of our immigration system.

Carlos Gutierrez
Thank you for all the interesting questions. Immigration is the domestic social issue of our time. We must undertake comprehensive immigration reforms now - to continue to keep our country safe and to capitalize on the economic benefits of immigration. We should not pass this problem on to future generations or administrations.

The President has articulated his vision for protecting our borders, enforcing our laws and creating a rational system for workers to come into our country to do the jobs Americans won't do. And he has called for a respectful debate on this important topic by saying, "This nation is a nation of laws. And we're going to enforce our laws. ... But we're also a nation of immigrants. And we must uphold that tradition which has strengthened this nation in so many ways. These aren't contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and America can be a welcoming society at the same time."

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