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Bush seeks consensus on immigration strategy

President Bush is trying to build support for a comprehensive immigration strategy  even though Congress has shelved the issue for now.
Border Patrol agent Mark Cary handcuffs a group of suspected illegal immigrants caught near Dulzura, Calif., in October. Cary is part of an elite Border Patrol unit that combs remote parts of the border that are inaccessible to vehicles.Sandy Huffaker / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush said Monday he wants to crack down on those who enter the country illegally but also give out more visas to foreigners with jobs, a dual plan he hopes will appease the social conservatives and business leaders who are his core supporters.

“The American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful society,” Bush said from the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base about an hour from the Mexican border. “We can have both at the same time.”

The touchy issue of immigration has divided lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he will bring up the issue early next year. The House hopes to tackle some border security measures before adjourning for the year, but little time remains and it has other issues on its plate.

Bush also was pitching his plan in Arizona and Texas on Tuesday, two border states that are home to GOP senators who have been vocal on the need to change immigration laws but who aren’t entirely sold on Bush’s vision.

The idea for temporary worker visas has been especially divisive and is stalled in Congress. Bush said he does not support amnesty for illegal immigrants, but he does want to give workers a way to earn an honest living doing jobs that other Americans are unwilling to do and issue more green cards.

“Listen, there’s a lot of opinions on this proposal,” Bush said. “I understand that, but people in this debate must recognize that we will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary worker program.”

Bush spoke to a supportive audience that included border patrol agents and military troops. He was flanked by two black Customs and Border Protection helicopters and giant green and yellow signs that said “Protecting America's Borders.”

Stronger border security
He said he is providing border agents with cutting-edge technology like overhead surveillance drones and infrared cameras, while at the same time constructing simple physical barriers to entry.

The president’s push on border security and immigration comes a month after Bush signed a $32 billion homeland security bill for 2006 that contains large increases for border protection, including 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

Bush has been urging Congress to act on a guest worker program for more than a year. Under his plan, undocumented immigrants would be allowed to get three-year work visas. They could extend that for an additional three years, but would then have to return to their home countries for a year to apply for a new work permit.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has proposed providing illegal immigrants in the United States visas for up to six years. After that, they must either leave the United States or be in the pipeline for a green card, which indicates lawful permanent residency.

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., support an alternative proposal that would require illegal immigrants to return to their home country to apply for a temporary worker program.

McCain and Kyl appeared with Bush, while Kennedy issued a statement criticizing the president for talking about immigration reform without acting after nearly five years in office. And it wasn't just Democrats saying that — Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Americans “are tired of talk and ready for action.”

And, she added, “We have no business discussing guest worker programs until we can actually prevent illegal entry.”