President Bush pressed Congress on Thursday to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that provides a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.
"The difficulty of this task is no excuse for avoiding it," he said.
Bush's speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was intended to build momentum for Senate and House negotiators to resolve passionate disputes and produce a compromise. The two houses passed sharply different versions of the legislation.
The House bill generally is limited to border enforcement and cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The Senate version would tighten border security, offer a guest worker program to bring in new foreign workers and provide a chance at citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.
"The United States Congress needs to pass a comprehensive bill," the president said. Bush said any legislation must include a temporary worker program and the opportunity for citizenship. The Chamber has supported Bush's approach, which would provide cheap labor for many jobs.
Bush said illegal immigration has put pressure on U.S. schools and hospitals, spawned more crime and caused other problems.
But, Bush said, "The vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people. They're hardworking people. They're people who love their families. ... They are part of American life and they're vital to our economy."