Bush: Massive Deportation Is Unrealistic
Monday, April 24, 2006; 9:47 PM
IRVINE, Calif. -- President Bush had a blunt message Monday for fellow Republicans focusing only on get-tough immigration policies: He said sending all the nation's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants back to their home countries is not the answer.
"Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic _ it's just not going to work," Bush said. "You know, you can hear people out there hollering it's going to work. It's not going to work."
With Congress coming back from a two-week spring recess to a long election-year to-do list and tensions flaring nationwide over immigration, Bush urged lawmakers to adopt a middle-ground policy. He called a Senate bill, which creates a way for illegal immigrants to work legally in the United States and for many to eventually become citizens, an "important approach."
"It's just an interesting concept that people need to think through," Bush said of the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which stalled before the congressional break.
As for Bush's comment on deportation, a Time magazine poll in January found 50 percent of the country favored deporting all illegal immigrants. But even Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., one of Congress' most outspoken advocates for tougher immigration laws, does not advocate mass deportation.
Well aware that November elections could end GOP control of Congress, Bush is walking a fine line on the emotional immigration issue, between his party's conservative base which wants a clampdown on illegal immigration and business leaders who believe the economy needs immigrants to fill jobs.
All sides are exerting pressure.
With armed citizen patrols popping up in border states, leaders in Arizona and New Mexico have pleaded for better policing of U.S. borders while other communities complain about the pressure that burgeoning immigrant populations are placing on local services. At the same time, tens of thousands of Hispanic and others _ a potentially important voting bloc _ have taken to streets across the country in the past few weeks to demand more immigration-friendly policies.
Reflecting that debate, when Bush turned to the audience assembled by the Orange County Business Council for questions, three of the eight queries he took were on immigration, including one from a woman who asked for his solution to emergency rooms crowded with poor people seeking routine care. Southern California's Orange County is a heavily Republican swath of sprawling Los Angeles suburbs that has been known _ even parodied _ as white, rich and conservative. But minorities now make up a majority of residents.
Bush said community health centers are the best place for the poor to get primary care. "There needs to be a campaign to explain what's available for people so that they don't go to the emergency rooms," he said.
He sought to highlight the contributions of immigrants to American society, and lamented the harsh _ and sometimes deadly _ conditions that many people face trying to illegally enter the country.
"One thing we cannot lose sight of is that we're talking about human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect," the president said.
The House has passed a law-and-order immigration bill that would erect fences along the Mexican border and treat people who sneak across as felons to be deported. An alternative Senate measure would set up a temporary guest worker program, like the McCain bill, but require all illegal immigrants to leave the United States before they could apply for the visas.
As he has before, Bush stopped short of directly endorsing the McCain bill. The White House will go no further than to call it an attractive vehicle to keep negotiations moving.
The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would boost border security but also create three-year visas for guest workers. Those who have been in the country longer than five years would not have to return home to apply for the visas. It would also allow for the workers to apply for legal permanent residency after paying a $2,000 fine, learning to speak English and working six years.
In an apparent, though indirect reference to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Bush said the McCain measure had been derailed by "needless politics." Republicans have been blaming Reid, D-Nev., for blocking the bill because he failed to reach agreement with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. on a procedure for voting on amendments sought by GOP opponents of the legislation.
"President Bush likes to point his finger on immigration and many other issues. Isn't it about time we moved beyond that?" Reid said Monday on the Senate floor. "The Senate can move forward on immigration if the president will stand up to those in his party who are filibustering."
Bush's immigration speech, and a later event at a Las Vegas casino that raised $400,000 for Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., ended a four-day stay in California. Bush is to meet at the White House Tuesday with a bipartisan group of senators on immigration.