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Ridge’s Immigration Remarks Draw Fire

December 11, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge’s expression of support for giving legal status to immigrants drew congressional criticism Wednesday but heartened advocates.

At a town hall meeting in Miami, Ridge said the country needs to ``come to grips″ with an estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal immigrants and ``determine how you can legalize their presence.″ He also said during a visit to Florida on Tuesday that the immigrants should not be rewarded citizenship.

Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, said Wednesday in Miami that Ridge’s comments simply reflected the debate in Congress on immigration.

``Secretary Ridge addressed it very honestly yesterday, engaged in that debate, but clearly this administration has not taken a firm policy position on that and the debate continues,″ Hutchinson said.

But Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., said it was ``inconceivable to me that Secretary Ridge is speaking for the Bush administration when he unilaterally and offhandedly suggests such a radical policy reversal that is guaranteed to encounter strong opposition in Congress.″

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, slowed talks about whether to legalize millions of illegal immigrants in the country.

Ridge’s words excited immigration advocates and one of Hayworth’s House colleague, Rep. Jeff Flake, who is sponsoring legislation that would give legal residency to illegal immigrants through work.

``Those who are working here illegally need to be here under a legal framework. Secretary Ridge also understands that this needs to be coupled with serious workplace enforcement,″ said Flake, R-Ariz.

Judy Golub, senior policy and outreach director for American Immigration Lawyers Association, said she thought it was the first time that a top administration official had made ``such a clear articulation of the fact that these folks are not threats and deserve some form of legal status.″

Cecilia Munoz, vice president of policy for National Council of La Raza, said Ridge’s comments broke two years of silence by the administration on the legalization issue.

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Associated Press writer Hilary Roxe in Miami contributed to this report.

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On the Net: Homeland Security Department: http://www.dhs.gov

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