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Bush Calls for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
"We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot," says Bush
By Jeffrey Thomas


January 24, 2007

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.

jpg Bush

President George W. Bush receives applause while delivering the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2007. Also pictured are Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
White House photo by David Bohrer

"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."

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.

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."



Related Information:

President Bush's Plan For Comprehensive Immigration Reform
2007 State of the Union Policy Initiatives

The White House
Office of Communication
January 23, 2007

In Focus: Immigration

Tonight, President Bush Will Call On Congress To Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The President believes that America can simultaneously be a lawful, economically dynamic, and welcoming society. We must address the problem of illegal immigration and deliver a system that is secure, productive, orderly, and fair. The President calls on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders, enhance interior and worksite enforcement, create a temporary worker program, resolve ­ without animosity and without amnesty ­ the status of illegal immigrants already here, and promote assimilation into our society. All elements of this problem must be addressed together ­ or none of them will be solved.

1. The United States Must Secure Its Borders

Border Security Is The Basic Responsibility Of A Sovereign Nation And An Urgent Requirement Of Our National Security. We have more than doubled border security funding from $4.6 billion in FY 2001 to $10.4 billion in FY 2007. We will have also increased the number of Border Patrol agents by 63 percent ­ from just over 9,000 agents at the beginning of this Administration to nearly 15,000 at the end of 2007. We are also on track to increase this number to approximately 18,000 by the end of 2008, doubling the size of the Border Patrol during the President's time in office.

  • To Supplement The Border Patrol As Its Numbers Increase, Approximately 6,000 National Guard Members Have Been Sent To Our Southern Border In Coordination With Governors. National Guard units are assisting the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, and building patrol roads. The National Guard is increasing the operational capacity of the Border Patrol to gain control of our Southern border.
  • The President's Secure Border Initiative (SBI) Is The Most Technologically Advanced Border Enforcement Initiative In American History. Last year, we initiated a multi-year plan to secure our borders and reduce illegal immigration through comprehensive upgrading of technology used in controlling the border, including improved communications assets, expanded use of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, and state-of-the-art detection technology.

The Administration Is Increasing Infrastructure Investment At The Border. We are expanding detention capacity and developing rapidly deployable fencing technology that will be rolled out this year. In addition, the President is committed to building hundreds of miles of integrated, tactical infrastructure along the Southern border, which includes vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting to help detect, deter, and prevent people from entering our country illegally.

  • The Administration Has Effectively Ended "Catch And Release" For Illegal Aliens Apprehended At The Borders. In FY06 and FY07 the Administration funded 6,700 new detention beds, for a total of 27,500 detention beds this fiscal year.
  • The Administration Expanded The Use Of "Expedited Removal," Which Allows Us To Send Illegal Immigrants Home More Quickly. The President is also working with Congress to mitigate court-imposed requirements that the Federal government release dangerous criminal aliens if their home countries do not take them back within a certain period of time.
  • The Administration Is Working Closely With State And Local Law Enforcement To Stop Illegal Immigration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the resources to train 1,500 State and local law enforcement officers under the 287(g) program in 2006 and 2007. DHS will work with its State and local partners to expand these programs, and received $50 million in 2006 supplemental funding for this effort. In addition, DHS is expanding to State and local law enforcement agencies the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) previously in place with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to identify illegal aliens who are incarcerated in Federal, State, and local jails.

2. We Must Hold Employers Accountable For The Workers They Hire

In A Sharp Break From The Past, The Administration Is Addressing The Illegal Employment Of Undocumented Workers With A Tough Combination Of Criminal Prosecution And Forfeitures. Previously, worksite enforcement relied on a combination of administrative hearings and fines. The fines were so modest that some employers treated them as merely a cost of doing business, and employment of undocumented workers continued unabated.

  • The Number Of Arrests In Worksite Enforcement Cases Has Increased Dramatically During The President's Time In Office. There were more than 4,300 arrests in worksite enforcement cases for 2006, more than seven times the arrests in 2002. In addition, the two largest worksite enforcement actions in U.S. history were conducted last year by ICE.
  • In Fall 2005, The President Signed A Bill Doubling Federal Resources For Worksite Enforcement. In addition,the Administration has launched law enforcement task forces in 11 major cities to dismantle criminal rings that produce fake documents.
  • DHS Has Issued A Proposed "No-Match" Regulation To Assist Employers In Ensuring A Legal Workplace And To Help The Government Identify And Crack Down On Employers Who Knowingly Hire Illegal Workers. In cases in which an employer has ten or more employees with inaccurate information, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sends the employer a "No-Match" letter. DHS's proposed "No-Match" regulation clarifies that employers may be held civilly and criminally liable when a letter is sent and employers ignore the discrepancies between SSA databases and the information provided about their employees.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Include The Creation Of A New, Tamper-Proof Identification Card For Every Legal Foreign Worker So Businesses Can Verify The Legal Status Of Their Employees. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. We will also work with Congress to expand "Basic Pilot" ­ an electronic employment eligibility verification system ­ and mandate that all employers use this system.

3. To Secure Our Border, We Must Create A Temporary Worker Program

America's Immigration Problem Will Not Be Solved With Security Measures Alone. There are many people on the other side of our borders who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. This dynamic creates tremendous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone cannot stop.

As We Tighten Controls At The Border, We Must Also Address The Needs Of America's Growing Economy. The rule of law cannot permit unlawful employment of millions of undocumented workers in the United States. Many American businesses, however, depend on hiring willing foreign workers for jobs that Americans are not doing.

To Provide A Lawful Channel For Employment That Will Benefit Both The United States And Individual Immigrants, The President Has Called For The Creation Of A Temporary Worker Program. Such a program will serve the needs of our economy by providing a lawful and fair way to match willing employers with willing foreign workers to fill jobs that Americans have not taken. The program will also serve our law enforcement and national security objectives by taking pressure off the border and freeing our hard-working Border Patrol to focus on terrorists, human traffickers, violent criminals, drug runners, and gangs.

The Temporary Worker Program Should Be Grounded In The Following Principles:

  • American Workers Must Be Given Priority Over Guest Workers. Employers should be allowed to hire guest workers only for jobs that Americans have not taken.
  • The Program Must Be Truly Temporary. Participation should be for a limited period of time, and the guest workers must return home after their authorized period of stay. Those who fail to return home in accordance with the law should become permanently ineligible for a green card and for citizenship.
  • Participation Should Fluctuate With Market Conditions. When the economy is booming, and there are not enough American workers available to help businesses grow, the program should be open to more participants. But when times are tough and Americans struggle to find jobs, the economy cannot and should not support as many guest workers.

4. We Must Bring Undocumented Workers Already In The Country Out Of The Shadows

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Account For The Millions Of Immigrants Already In The Country Illegally. Illegal immigration causes serious problems, putting pressure on public schools and hospitals and straining State and local budgets. People who have worked hard, supported their families, avoided crime, led responsible lives, and become a part of American life should be called in out of the shadows and under the rule of American law.

The President Opposes An Automatic Path To Citizenship Or Any Other Form Of Amnesty. Amnesty, as a reward for lawbreaking, would only invite further lawbreaking. Amnesty would also be unfair to those lawful immigrants who have patiently waited their turn for citizenship and to those who are still waiting to enter the country legally.

The President Supports A Rational Middle Ground Between A Program Of Mass Deportation And A Program Of Automatic Amnesty. It is neither wise nor realistic to round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. But there should be no automatic path to citizenship. The President supports a rational middle ground founded on the following basic tenets:

  • No Amnesty. Workers who have entered the country illegally and workers who have overstayed their visas must pay a substantial penalty for their illegal conduct.
  • In Addition To Paying A Meaningful Penalty, Undocumented Workers Must Learn English, Pay Their Taxes, Pass A Background Check, And Hold A Job For A Number Of Years Before They Will Be Eligible To Be Considered For Legalized Status.
  • Any Undocumented Worker Seeking Citizenship Must Go To The "Back Of The Line." The program should not reward illegal conduct by making participants eligible for citizenship ahead of those who have played by the rules and followed the law. Instead, program participants must wait their turn at the back of the line.

5. We Must Promote Assimilation Into Our Society By Teaching New Immigrants English And American Values

Those Who Swear The Oath Of Citizenship Are Doing More Than Completing A Legal Process ­ They Are Making A Lifelong Pledge To Support The Values And The Laws Of America. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, our history, and the ability to speak and write the English language. Every new citizen has an obligation to learn the English language and the customs and values that define our Nation, including liberty and civic responsibility, appreciation for our history, tolerance for others, and equality. When immigrants assimilate, they advance in our society, realize their dreams, and add to the unity of America.

New Citizens Need Guidance To Succeed. The Office of Citizenship is creating new guides for immigrants and introducing a new pilot civics examination designed to foster a deeper understanding of civic virtues and the founding ideals. The President's Task Force on New Americans is fostering volunteerism through and exploring partnerships with local organizations. Public libraries and faith-based and community groups will be encouraged to offer English language and civics instruction to immigrants who are seeking to make America their home.

(end fact sheet)


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