Bush Defends His Immigration Proposals

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By DEB RIECHMANN
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 19, 2007; 8:11 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- President Bush sharply challenged critics of his stalled immigration-overhaul efforts on Thursday, suggesting that failure to pass a guest-worker program could trigger a labor shortage in the United States.

At a town-hall style meeting, Bush also rebuffed a question about whether he would consider pardoning two Border Patrol agents in prison for the cover-up of the shooting of a drug trafficker in Texas.

"No, I won't make you that promise," Bush told a woman who asked about a possible pardon. Many Republicans in Congress have said the men should not have been convicted and have criticized the federal U.S. attorney for even prosecuting the agents.

"I know it's an emotional issue but people need to look at the facts. These men were convicted by a jury of their peers after listening to the facts" as presented by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, said Bush. Bush called Sutton a friend.

The president also toured a bun bakery here, and used the business to illustrate a warning to Congress that he'd veto any government spending bill that he thinks is excessive.

"You can't keep making buns if the Democrats take all your dough," Bush joked in a speech shortly after taking in the aroma of fresh bread at the bakery, which supplies fast-food restaurants.

Bush took questions for more than an hour. Most were friendly, but several on immigration policy were pointed.

The president said he was disappointed about his immigration bill's demise in the Senate and reiterated his support for a guest worker program and a path toward citizenship for many of the 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States.

Without such a program, and with stricter enforcement of the border, said Bush, "I can make you a prediction ... that pretty shortly people are going to be knocking on people's doors saying `Man we're running out of workers."'

The president defended his embattled Iraq policy and sought yet again to link the current Islamic militants in Iraq with those who planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, even though such links are tenuous.

When Bush was asked about whether he would consider pardoning the two border patrol agents, he seemed briefly taken aback.

"I'm not going to make that kind of promise in a forum like this, obviously," he said. "I'm interested in facts. I know the prosecutor very well, Johnny Sutton. He's a dear friend of mine from Texas. He's a fair guy. He is an evenhanded guy and I can't imagine, well, you know. ..."


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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