Bush presses for reform on border policy

President Bush said yesterday he wants to reform immigration policy so that the Border Patrol will be “chasing crooks and thieves and drug-runners and terrorists,” and not the thousands who cross the border every day to find work.

Mr. Bush has for months tried to drum up congressional support for his plan to give illegal aliens “temporary worker cards” that would allow them to legally hold jobs that U.S. businesses say they can’t fill with American labor.

At his final formal press conference of the year, Mr. Bush said immigrants are pouring over the U.S. border, mostly from Mexico, to “put food on the table” and that “it makes sense for us to recognize that reality.

“We want our Border Patrol agents chasing, you know, crooks and thieves and drug-runners and terrorists, not good-hearted people who are coming here to work,” Mr. Bush said. “And therefore, it makes sense to allow the good-hearted people who are coming here to do jobs that Americans won’t do a legal way to do so. And providing that legal avenue, it takes the pressure off the border.”

Conservatives have resisted the president’s plan, arguing that it amounts to an amnesty for those who are currently breaking the law and that the relaxed rules could be exploited by terrorists.

Mr. Bush assured critics that “one of the important aspects of my vision is that this is not automatic citizenship.

“The American people must understand that,” Mr. Bush said. “If somebody who is here working wants to be a citizen, they can get in line like those who have been here legally and have been working to become a citizen in a legal manner.”

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) yesterday asked Mr. Bush to clarify his comments on his proposed guest-worker proposal, which the White House plans to put before Congress next year.

FAIR President Dan Stein said he wants Mr. Bush to provide “a comprehensive list” of what jobs Americans will not do, which would require that they be filled by foreign nationals, and explain why those jobs are not subject to free-market competition.

“Mr. President, you frequently talk about allowing the free market to work,” Mr. Stein said. “Why not apply this principle to the jobs you claim Americans will not do, and allow the free market to bid up wages for American workers?

“In your opinion, is upward mobility still a desirable objective for American workers?” he said.

The White House has pointed to California agriculture as an example of an industry where immigrants are needed to fill labor slots that pay too little for most Americans to take.

Mr. Bush said yesterday that as governor of Texas in the 1990s, he “was right there on the front lines of border politics” and understands the issue well.

“I know what it means to have mothers and fathers come to my state and across the border of my state to work,” Mr. Bush said. “Family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River. [That] is what I used to tell the people of my state.”

Mr. Stein also asked how the government intended to pay “for the education of the children, the health care for the families,” and other services that foreign workers and their families require.

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