Bush Calls for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

By Jeffrey Thomas
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – In his State of the Union address January 23, President Bush called on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would confront the problems posed by having millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. 

“We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals,” Bush said. “And we need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country – without animosity and without amnesty.” (See related article.)

Bush asked Congress to create “an immigration system worthy of America – with laws that are fair and borders that are secure.”

Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the United States vary widely.  The Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group, calculates an unauthorized population of 11.5 million to 12 million as of March 2006, based on Census Bureau information and other data.

Bush said he was doubling the size of the Border Patrol and funding new infrastructure and technology to secure the border. In 2006, he sent approximately 6,000 National Guard members to assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers and building patrol roads.

But the president said that the border could not be secured without a temporary worker program that would “take the pressure off” and leave border agents free to chase down drug smugglers, criminals and terrorists. Workers who violated the terms of the program would become permanently ineligible for a U.S. permanent resident card, or green card, and U.S. citizenship, according to a White House fact sheet.

Bush continues to oppose any automatic path to citizenship or any other form of amnesty on the grounds that such measures would reward lawbreaking and be unfair to those who waited their turn for citizenship or still are waiting to enter the country legally.

The president’s plan also features enforcing immigration laws at work sites and providing employers with the means of verifying the legal status of their workers. The Bush administration has broken with past practice of imposing modest fines on employers who hire illegals, according to the White House fact sheet. The administration has increased the number of arrests in work site enforcement cases, doubled federal resources for enforcement and now wants Congress to create a new, tamper-proof identification card for every legal foreign worker so that businesses can verify the legal status of their employees.

Experts believe the chances of immigration reform passing in the new Democratic-controlled Congress are good. Some of the Republican lawmakers who favored a “get-tough” policy rather than immigration reform were defeated in the November 2006 elections. But comprehensive immigration reform still will require bipartisan compromise, particularly on the details of a guest-worker program and a route to a legal immigration status for unauthorized immigrants already in the country.

The new Senate leadership made a bipartisan commitment to tackle comprehensive immigration reform when Congress convened January 4, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introducing a “sense of Congress” resolution that the House and Senate should pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill. (See related article.)

Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts who now chairs the key Senate subcommittee on immigration, welcomed “the President’s renewed commitment to comprehensively reform our nation’s broken immigration system” and expressed agreement with the principles Bush set forth.

“The President has been a leader on this issue and I am hopeful that he will continue his efforts with members of his party so that we can pass legislation that will solve the problem once and for all,” Kennedy said in a statement released January 23.

Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, a Democrat and the new chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims, likewise promised January 23 to work “in a bipartisan manner to enact practical, lasting immigration reform that works for our country.”

For additional details, see a White House fact sheet on President Bush's plan for comprehensive immigration.