FOOD STAMPS FOR IMMIGRANTS
St. Petersburg Times: President Bush's proposal to restore food stamps to legal immigrants living in poverty is a step Congress should take. Enactment of the president's plan would correct one of the harshest provisions in the 1996 welfare law, passed by Congress and signed by then-President Clinton, that made legal immigrants ineligible for many forms of public assistance. Ostensibly designed to help balance the federal budget, the move doubled as a way for politicians to give immigrants the stick while enabling Washington to shift a greater part of the burden for social services to local governments and the states.
About 800,000 immigrants lost food stamp benefits. Congress later restored eligibility to children and the elderly, but Bush's plan would go farther to undo the damage. Under the White House plan, immigrants of all ages with low incomes would be eligible provided they lived legally in the United States at least five years. The administration expects an additional 363,000 people would qualify, which is a sign not only of how many are struggling but of the number of noncitizens who want to stay and make a go of it.
Taxpayers: It is too often forgotten how critical a role immigrants play in American economic and social life. Though noncitizens, millions of legal residents work, own property, employ others and pay taxes. Many perform tasks Americans refuse to do. They play vital roles in farming, tourism and the service industries in many states, and their low wages give Americans not only cheap food but a competitive manufacturing base. Put aside the moral question; food stamps will help keep an important sector of the work force here and healthy during this economic downtown.
Denying immigrants minimum nutrition is a national and bipartisan embarrassment. Bush deserves credit for taking this step, and if Hispanic voters reward him for it, so much the better. That's how democracies work. Bush has, overall, a good record on Hispanic concerns dating back to his days as governor of Texas, and if he can move the Republican Party forward on issues related to immigration, the country will be better off.
Los Angeles Times: Since seizing power in a bloodless coup more than two years ago, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has been leading his nation out of the camp of Islamic extremism. He speeded up the process in a speech after Sept. 11, announcing a break with the Taliban and warning that Pakistan's survival would be jeopardized if it opposed the United States. Last Saturday, with Pakistan on a war footing in its conflict with neighboring India, he moved a step further and pledged to crack down on Islamic radicals.
Both of the televised speeches were courageous, and their favorable reception by most Pakistanis should be an inspiration to moderate Muslims. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who left Tuesday for a trip that includes Pakistan and India, called Musharraf's latest address "bold and principled."
Musharraf castigated those who seek to "propagate their own brand of religion" and banned several groups thought to engage in terror at home and abroad. His government has arrested hundreds more members of banned groups. Musharraf's remarks in large part were aimed at India, at defusing the renewed crisis over control of the Indian state of Kashmir, on the India-Pakistan border.
Border guerrillas: India welcomed the address but rightly demanded action as well. The key will be Pakistan's dealings with the border guerrillas that it considers fighters for freedom of the disputed territory. India considers them terrorists. If Pakistan ensures that the fighters do not cross from the part of Kashmir it controls into Indian-held territory, New Delhi should be willing to hold talks.
India mobilized its million-member army and moved hundreds of thousands of troops to the border with Pakistan after five terrorists attacked the Parliament building in New Delhi Dec. 13. Nine Indians and the five attackers were killed. India said the assailants belonged to two Pakistani groups that have carried out similar raids. Pakistan banned both organizations but has refused to turn over other men whom India has blamed for earlier acts of terror.
Although pro-Taliban demonstrations were smaller than feared and the president's two speeches were generally well received, Pakistan still has a sizable number of Islamic radicals. This forces Musharraf to move carefully.
Pakistan and India, separated in 1947 when both became independent from Britain, have fought three wars, two centered on Kashmir. Now both of the nuclear-armed nations would benefit from outside help to get peace talks started.
That's where Powell can come in, offering help and reassuring both countries of the U.S. desire for good relations. Pakistan and India need U.S. friendship and assistance. They can continue to earn it by defusing tensions on the border.