Bush talks tough on immigration

President says crackdown at U.S. borders must be linked to guest worker program

November 29, 2005|By WARREN VIETH AND NICOLE GAOUETTE | WARREN VIETH AND NICOLE GAOUETTE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TUCSON -- President Bush promised yesterday to step up efforts to stanch the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States, but he insisted that the crackdown at the border be accompanied by a guest worker program open to the millions of people who are already in the country illegally.

"The American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful society," Bush told border security personnel gathered at an Air Force base. "We can have both at the same time."

Bush's speech came as Congress has begun to grapple with legislation to overhaul immigration laws. The issue has divided Republicans between those who want tougher border enforcement and businesses that rely on immigrant labor, many of which favor a guest worker program.

By calling both for tougher border enforcement and a temporary worker program, the president signaled that he aimed to try to please both constituencies.

Bush told his audience at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson that his administration would continue to increase federal resources at the border.

The government's enforcement plans include hiring an additional 1,000 border patrol agents, increasing the total to about 12,500; deployment of advanced technology such as "drone" surveillance planes; and construction of physical barriers, including a 14-mile fence near San Diego.

"Our responsibility is clear," he said. "We are going to protect the border." But he also said proposals advancing in Congress to adopt new border and interior enforcement laws should be incorporated into comprehensive legislation that takes into account the 11 million illegal immigrants, including 6 million undocumented workers, in the country.

Such a program, he said, would bring undocumented workers "out of the shadows" and allow them to work legally for several years at jobs that Americans did not want. "We will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary worker program," he said.

At the same time, Bush vowed to oppose any proposal providing an "automatic" path to citizenship, and he said that participants in a guest worker program ultimately must be required to return to their homelands.

"I oppose amnesty," Bush said. "Rewarding those who have broken the law would encourage others to break the law and keep pressure on our border."

Bush devoted the bulk of his 27-minute address to the law-and-order elements of his immigration reform agenda, and spent considerably less time discussing its guest worker provisions. His tough talk on border security reflected a new push by his administration to respond to increasing public anxiety about the effects of illegal immigration and growing pressure within his own party to crack down on border crossings now and wrangle over guest workers later.

Yesterday's speech was part of a two-day trip devoted largely to immigration. Today Bush is scheduled to meet with border patrol agents in El Paso, texas, before returning to Washington.

Opinion polls suggest a mixed view of illegal immigrants, with many Americans saying they contribute to such social ills as criminal activity, overloaded schools and hospital emergency rooms and downward pressure on wages, particularly for unskilled labor. In many polls, respondents say overwhelmingly that the federal government is not doing enough to secure the borders.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey in April found that 67 percent of respondents favored using the U.S. military to stop illegal immigrants at the border, and 51 percent said in an October survey that they favored building a 2,000-mile security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But at the same time, some surveys show that support for a guest worker program. In the April survey by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, 62 percent of respondents said they favored allowing undocumented immigrants now working in the United States to apply for legal, temporary worker status.

Last week, the House Homeland Security Committee approved a bill designed to increase border security and make it easier to deport some illegal immigrants. House leaders have indicated that they intend to pass a border crackdown bill before year's end and leave the issue of guest workers until later. The Senate appears more inclined to tackle both issues at once.

Warren Vieth and Nicole Gaouette write for the Los Angeles Times.

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