WASHINGTON – Anticipating turbulent debate over immigration, President Bush urged Congress on Thursday to grapple with the emotional issue in a way that avoids pitting groups against each other.
The Senate is to take up immigration next week – and the president and the leader of his party are starting out with different ideas about the best way to address the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
Bush wants Congress to create a program to allow foreigners to gain legal status in the United States for a set amount of time to do specific jobs. When the time is up, they would be required to return home without an automatic path to citizenship.
Bush said Thursday that his message is: “If you are doing a job that Americans won’t do, you’re welcome here for a period of time to do that job.”
Immigration is a divisive issue for the country, and Republicans in particular. It splits two main GOP constituent groups – businesses and social conservatives.
The president is working hand-in-hand with employers who want cheap labor to clean hotel rooms, pick crops and do other tasks that they say keep their businesses competitive. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says he understands those economic issues, but his focus is on the main concern voiced by the social conservatives – national security.
“The most important thing is that we keep our borders safe, we keep America safe,” said Frist spokeswoman Amy Call. “It’s obvious there are drugs, there are criminals coming through those borders. There are also people from known terrorist organizations coming through those borders.”
Poll finds public backs tougher controls
The public appears to be more on the side of tougher border control. Three-quarters of respondents to a Time magazine poll in January said the United States is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country.
Roughly the same amount said they favor a guest worker program for illegal immigrants, but 46 percent said those workers should have to return first to their native countries and apply. About 50 percent favored deporting all illegal immigrants.