It's not surprising that George W. Bush made immigration reform his first major initiative of this election year. More than 90% of Hispanics, according to a recent poll, support some kind of legalization program for the estimated 8 million to 10 million illegal immigrants. And Hispanic support could swing a close election the President's way. But the plan still has a long way to go before being enacted, and many details remain unresolved. The major questions:
--HOW WOULD IT WORK? Illegal migrants could apply for a temporary permit that would allow them to work legally for up to three years. To get a permit, the worker would need a sponsor. Holiday Inn, say, would join with its cleaning woman to inform the government, and in return the employee would get legal status for three years and all the rights accorded American workers, such as a minimum wage and more stringent health and safety standards.
--WILL IT WORK? The big question is whether illegals will want to identify themselves without a more certain guarantee that they can eventually become citizens. Under Bush's plan, the permit would expire in three years, after which the worker would have to line up behind millions of others to receive full citizenship. The Administration thinks there are enough incentives to make illegals come forward, and there is also the possibility that the three-year agreement could be renewed.
--WILL IT PASS? It will be tough. Congress appears closely divided. Some Latino groups and labor supporters think it doesn't go far enough in helping immigrants, while conservatives complain that it is rewarding illegal activity. There are also questions about how hard President Bush will push for it, since the fight could be messy. Advisers insist that Bush is committed to this plan. "He knows this issue from Texas," says an aide. "He's always asking how this plan will help the guy in West Texas picking cotton." He also knows that he may get credit with some voters for the big gesture, even if it produces only an initial round of big headlines.
--By Matthew Cooper