President Bush is stepping up pressure on Congress to embrace his plan for a guest worker plan for foreigners while talking tough about illegal immigration and a need for secure U.S. borders.
“Those who enter the country illegally break the law,” Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address.
“In communities near our border, illegal immigration strains the resources of schools, hospitals and law enforcement. And it involves smugglers and gangs that bring crime to our neighborhoods. Faced with this serious challenge our government’s responsibility is clear. We’re going to protect our borders.”
This week, the president made appearances in Arizona and Texas that focused on border security and immigration, two items he says will top his legislative agenda next year.
His goal is to catch more foreigners crossing the border while increasing the number of temporary work visas for those who will take jobs that Americans are unwilling to fill. He is trying to appease social conservatives who take a hard line against illegal immigrants and business leaders who want to hire foreign laborers.
Bush already increased the number of Border Patrol agents but said in the broadcast that he wants money to hire more of them, along with high-tech aerial drones and other technology.
“Since I took office we’ve increased funding for border security by 60 percent, and our border agents have caught and sent home more than 4.5 million illegal immigrants, including more than 350,000 with criminal records,” he said. “Yet we must do more to build on this progress.”
The president said his administration is committed to promptly returning every illegal immigrant caught at the border with no exceptions.
“For illegal immigrants from Mexico, we are working to expand an innovative program called interior repatriation, in which those caught at the border are returned to their hometowns, far from the border — making it more difficult for them to attempt another crossing,” Bush said.
“For non-Mexican illegal immigrants, we’re changing the unwise policy of catch-and-release to a policy of catch-and-return, and we’re speeding up the removal process.”
Bush said Congress needs to fix weak and unnecessary provisions in U.S. immigration laws. Those include “senseless rules that require us to release illegal immigrants if their home countries do not take them back in a set period of time,” he said.
Strengthening border security has the broadest support in Congress, and a bill to do so appears to likely to move first and perhaps become the starting point for additional measures.
Bush’s desire for a guest-worker program has been stalled in Congress since he proposed it, although at least two competing bills would establish temporary worker visas.
“Comprehensive immigration reform requires us to create a new temporary worker program that relieves pressure on the border, but rejects amnesty,” Bush said.
“By creating a legal channel for willing employers to hire willing workers we will reduce the number of workers trying to sneak across the border, and that would free up law enforcement officers to focus on criminals, drug dealers, terrorists, and others who mean us harm.”
Reassuring his conservative supporters, the president said his program would not create an automatic path to citizenship, and would not provide amnesty.
“I oppose amnesty,” he said. “Rewarding lawbreakers would encourage others to break the law and keep pressure on our border. A temporary worker program will relieve pressure on the border and help us more effectively enforce our immigration laws.”
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked Bush in a letter Monday to encourage bipartisan and realistic changes to immigration laws. Reid said the president should “stand up to the right wing of your party and stand up for what is right” by taking more than an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration.
“Enforcement alone does not work,” Reid said. “Unless we address the gap between our immigration laws and reality, illegal immigration will not stop and the situation on the border will continue to be chaotic.”