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Immigration speech by Bush draws fire

Written by: Staff

Washington, May 17 : President George W Bush's national address on immigration appeared to change few minds in Congress and make little headway toward a middle ground, with critics on the left and right blasting his approach as inadequate.

Bush's decision to deploy National Guard troops to the Mexican border and offer illegal immigrants a chance to become citizens did not satisfy conservative Republicans, gave Democrats a new opening to question his leadership and sparked complaints from border-state governors.

The general public took a kinder view, with a CNN poll immediately after the speech finding 79 percent of Americans had a ''very positive'' or ''somewhat positive'' reaction, and only 18 percent had a ''negative'' reaction.

But the reaction from one of Bush's primary audiences -- House of Representative Republicans who back a get-tough approach on immigration -- was considerably harsher.

''We were looking for something to help us get off the dime and find a compromise. The president made the situation worse,'' Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California told Reuters.

He and other conservatives criticized Bush's plans for a temporary guest-worker program that gives illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship, calling it another form of amnesty that rewards lawbreakers.

Bush said his plan did not amount to amnesty and outlined a path to citizenship for immigrants who pay a fine and taxes, learn English and show they are employed. He ruled out mass deportation of the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

''We need real compromise and not word games,'' Rohrabacher said, adding Bush's approach would not win over conservative converts or make it easier to find an ultimate compromise. ''He insulted a lot of people and did not provide leadership.'' Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said Bush needed a broader approach to illegal immigration.

''A few steps, including calling out the National Guard, significant though they may be, will not change the pervasive illegality of our current immigration system to one that works. And the American people know it,'' Sessions said.


Bush's nationally televised speech was an attempt to steer the immigration debate as the Senate began consideration of a broad overhaul of immigration laws, analysts said. Any Senate bill must be reconciled with a tough House version that would make illegal immigrants felons and erect a big border fence.

Bush, mindful of the growing clout of Hispanic voters, has struggled to mollify conservatives in his party while pushing for a guest worker program that would let immigrants stay in the country while applying for residency.

Daniel Griswold, a trade and immigration expert at the conservative Cato Institute think tank, said Bush was trying to frame the debate on a topic with ''so many moving parts, no one is going to be completely satisfied.'' ''The president didn't need to dramatically turn things around.

He just needed to add energy and momentum to a process that is ongoing, and I think he accomplished that,'' Griswold said.

Democrats said Bush had been ineffectual in leading the debate so far.

''Now he must stand up to right-wing members of his own party who are working to block Senate action,'' Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

Several border-state governors, while welcoming attention to the issue, complained they were not consulted about deploying troops to the border and called it a short-term fix.

''It remains unclear what impact only 6,000 National Guard troops will have on securing the border,'' Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California said. ''I am concerned asking National Guard troops to guard our nation's border is a band-aid solution and not the permanent solution we need.''


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