— Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, stepping up his appeal to Hispanic voters, called today for all permanent residency applications to be handled within six months, instead of the current three to five years.
Bush, the governor of Texas and son of former President George Bush, told the National Council of La Raza annual conference he wanted immigrants to the United States to be welcomed with open arms rather than by a hostile Immigrant and Naturalization Service bureaucracy, as is often the case today.
“We will bring to the INS a new standard of service and culture of respect,” Bush told the nonprofit organization, which seeks to reduce poverty and increase opportunity for Hispanics.
Bush, who leads his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, by up to 13 percentage points in recent opinion polls, still trails among Hispanics, who have become a reliable Democratic constituency. In one recent survey, Gore led among Latino voters by 50 percent to 34 percent.
But Bush has a record of reaching out to Hispanics, whose importance in U.S. politics is growing. Currently estimated at 13 percent of the population, Hispanics are expected to become almost 20 percent by 2025.
When he won a landslide victory for a second term as governor of Texas in 1998, Bush took almost half the Hispanic vote, more than any previous Republican. In campaign speeches, he has even expressed understanding of the motives of illegal immigrants from Mexico, saying they were only trying to help their children build a better future.
Bush recently tapped his 24-year-old nephew, George P. Bush, a self-described Hispanic-American who is bilingual in Spanish and English, to head his youth outreach campaign and to tape some Spanish-language TV advertisements. The younger Bush is the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife, Columba.
The speech to La Raza expanded on a previous Bush proposal to split the INS into two separate agencies — one to patrol the border and prevent illegal immigration and the other to deal with legal migration.
“Every INS immigration application should be fully processed within six months of submission. No immigrant should have to wait more than six months for the INS to make a decision on his or her application,” Bush said.
“Legal immigrants are the future and the changing face of America and we should welcome them and treat them with respect,” he said.
“Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande. But sometimes the INS sends a different message. My administration will reform the INS and make it worthy of a nation of immigrants,” Bush said.
An ‘Appalling’ Record?
The Gore campaign said in a statement Bush had an appalling record on Hispanic issues in Texas.
“As governor of Texas, Bush has consistently ignored the impoverished living conditions in the ‘colonias’ — unincorporated Hispanic neighborhoods along the Southwest U.S. border that lack basic water and sewer systems, power connections, paved roads, accessible health care and adequate educational and employment opportunities,” the statement said.
“Bush has never visited any one of the 1,500 colonias and vetoed a bill that would have improved the quality of life for Hispanic families in these communities,” it added.
Republicans, especially in California, have been working to repair relations with the Hispanic community, which were badly damaged by former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who backed a proposal in 1994 to deny social services and education to illegal immigrants and their children.
Bush proposed providing an additional $500 million over five years to hire additional staff at the badly overloaded INS, which currently takes 52 months to process immigrant applications in California, 69 months in Texas and 49 months in Arizona.