LOS ANGELES – Organizers expect several thousand people at an immigrant rights rally on Saturday, saying many illegal immigrants are angry about a White House plan that would grant them work visas but require them to return home and pay hefty fines to become legal U.S. residents.
Immigrant rights advocates say many of the area's illegal immigrants feel betrayed by President Bush, who they had long considered an ally.
"People are really upset," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, president of Los Angeles-based Latino Movement USA, one of several organizers of Saturday's rally. "For years, the president spoke in no uncertain terms about supporting immigration reform ... then this kind of plan comes out and people are so frustrated."
The White House's draft plan, leaked last week, calls for a new "Z" visa that would allow illegal immigrant workers to apply for three-year work permits. They would be renewable indefinitely, but would cost $3,500 each time.
To get a permit and become legal permanent residents, illegal immigrants would have to return to their home country, apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate to re-enter legally and pay a $10,000 fine.
The proposal has been sharply criticized by Hispanic advocacy groups, Democrats, the Roman Catholic Church and unions that have many immigrants in their ranks. They argue the cost of work permits and the green card application — which could total more than $20,000 — are prohibitive for low-wage earners.
The plan is far more conservative than the one passed by the Senate last year with bipartisan backing and support from President Bush. That plan would have allowed many of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to stay in the United States, work and apply to become legal residents after learning English, pay small fines and back taxes and clear a background check.
Many Senate conservatives opposed that plan, and it failed to gain traction in the then Republican-controlled House, which at the end of 2005 passed the punitive immigration reform bill that angered immigrant communities and led to massive protests.