Bush says US needs broad approach on immigration
Washington, Mar 24: President George W Bush, facing deep divisions in his party over the issue, said effective immigration reform must focus not just on enforcing the border but include his proposal for a guest-worker program.
Immigration is looming as a key issue in the November midterm elections in which Republicans are seeking to hold on to their majorities in both houses of Congress.
Fears of terrorists crossing the borders into the United States have fueled a push to toughen immigration policies and helped spark a rebellion among Republicans against Bush's idea of granting temporary work visas to some people from other countries.
Some view it as a back-door way of providing amnesty to illegal immigrants, a characterization Bush rejects.
''Our government must enforce our borders. We've got plans in place to do so,'' Bush told reporters after a meeting with immigration-reform advocates yesterday.
''But part of enforcing our borders is to have a guest- worker program that encourages people to register their presence so that we know who they are, and says to them, 'If you're doing a job an American won't do, you're welcome here for a period of time to do that job,''' Bush added.
Bush's comments could strengthen the hand of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter who is pushing his committee to complete work on comprehensive legislation that includes a temporary worker program and would give undocumented aliens an opportunity to legalize their status.
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, is working against a deadline set by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and potential 2008 presidential candidate. Frist plans to bring to the Senate floor his own border-enforcement immigration bill if the Judiciary Committee fails to pass legislation.
The panel is scheduled to meet on on Monday in hopes of rushing a comprehensive bill to the floor before Frist brings up his own bill next week.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has said he will try to block Frist if he tries to bypass the Judiciary Committee.
Calling the Frist bill ''draconian,'' Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said he agreed with Bush on the need for broad immigration reform but that he should take a firmer line with ''the immigration restrictionists in his party who want to close our borders.'' Kennedy and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain have co-sponsored a bill that would give some of the country's 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to legalized status.
The House of Representatives in December passed tough border security and employment enforcement legislation that also called for the construction of a fence along the 2,000- mile (3,200-km) US border with Mexico. That bill omits the temporary worker program proposed by Bush.
Bush urged Republicans to be mindful of their rhetoric as the immigration debate heats up and make sure the comments remain civil.
Bush hopes the guest-worker program will help Republicans court Hispanic voters in key states like Arizona, New Mexico and Florida.
But as his approval ratings have sunk to record lows for his presidency of about 36 percent, Republicans are increasingly willing to go against him on issues such as immigration, where they are feeling pressure from their constituents.
Bush acknowledged at a news conference on Tuesday that ''immigration is a very difficult issue for a lot of members, as you know. It's an emotional issue".