- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

IRVINE, Calif. — President Bush yesterday ruled out deporting the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the United States and also praised a plan that offers a path to citizenship for many current illegal aliens.

“Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It’s just not going to work,” he told the Orange County Business Council. “You hear people out there hollering, ‘It’s going to work.’ It’s not going to work.”

But those who want a crackdown on illegal immigration said mass deportations aren’t what they seek.

“Straw-man alert,” warned Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. “There are so many straw men in the immigration debate that you think it’s taking place in Nebraska, not Washington.

“No one is talking about mass deportations,” he said. “Our approach is one of attrition where you make it difficult for an illegal alien to get a job in this country or to access our social services, so that over time, illegal aliens stop coming to this country and the ones already here go home.”

Mr. Bush is trying to jump-start the immigration debate, which stalled in the Senate two weeks ago, when no plan was able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

He is scheduled to meet with Republican and Democratic senators today to urge them to pass a guest-worker bill and go to conference with the House, which passed an enforcement-only bill last year.

Yesterday, the president gave his strongest praise yet of a Senate plan that gives illegal aliens who have lived in the U.S. more than five years a path to citizenship, calling it “an interesting concept that people need to think through.”

“A person ought to be allowed to get in line. In other words, pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system, and get in the back of the line,” he said, using language resembling that of Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, who want a path to citizenship for all illegal aliens.

But moments earlier, Mr. Bush also seemed to side with those who oppose a path to citizenship, saying illegal aliens should remain “on a temporary basis,” though he said what “temporary” means “will be decided in the halls of Congress.”

That is a change from his administration’s earlier position. In October, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told the Senate Judiciary Committee that illegal aliens and future foreign workers should have access to a temporary program that allows them to work legally for up to two three-year periods and then must go home.

Republican congressional aides who opposed a path to citizenship said Mr. Bush’s remarks were demoralizing for them, and Mr. Kennedy said it appeared that Mr. Bush was adopting his stance on “earned legalization.”

“I am encouraged by the president’s backing of this approach today and hope that his leadership will help bring more Republicans together behind our tough but fair plan,” Mr. Kennedy said.

But other Democrats said Mr. Bush hasn’t been clear at all.

“Rather than just words, tell us what his program is. He has a staff of thousands. Have a few of them come and tell us what the president wants on a guest-worker program,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “It appears he doesn’t want anything, but does he want us to do anything with the 12 million? Let him take a stand on that.”

Mr. Bush and Mr. Reid have traded accusations in the past few weeks about who was responsible for blocking a plan that would have given many illegal aliens a path to citizenship.

Under the plan, sponsored by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez, aliens who have been in the United States more than five years would be given an automatic path to citizenship, aliens here two to five years would have to go home first but would also be on track to citizenship, and aliens with less than two years’ residency would have to go home.

Mr. Bush yesterday credited Congress with leading the way on border security and interior enforcement, but said enforcement alone won’t solve the problem.

After his remarks yesterday, Mr. Bush took questions from the audience, and one man asked him whether, as a Texan, he knew any “illegal status individuals.” The president said he doubted it.

“No, I don’t believe I know anybody who is in Texas illegally. Had I hired somebody who had been here illegally, I guarantee you’d have read about it,” he said to laughter and applause.

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