- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Bush yesterday insisted his proposal to relax immigration laws would not allow illegal aliens from Mexico to “cut in line” in front of legal immigrants.

But he said businesses should be able to hire illegals because “people coming up from Mexico want to put food on their table for their sons and daughters.”

In a state plagued by illegal immigration, Mr. Bush said his plan to grant temporary worker status to Mexicans who broke the law to enter the country would “treat people humanely” while helping the American economy. Flanked by New Mexico home builders in a sun-drenched courtyard, the president suggested that illegals fill menial jobs shunned by U.S. workers.

“People right here behind me are looking for somebody to … lay roof, lay tile and they can’t find workers here,” he said. “If a builder back here can’t find an American willing to do the job, they ought to have the ability to put somebody on the job who can do the job.”

Mindful that his proposal is extremely unpopular among conservative voters that he will need for re-election, Mr. Bush emphasized that although illegals would be allowed to stay and obtain jobs, they would eventually be sent back to Mexico.

“This is not an amnesty program,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense to have amnesty right now in the country. Amnesty would encourage further illegal immigration.

“And amnesty would say to those who stood in line for a long period of time, who want to be a legal citizen: Standing in line legally wasn’t worth it. We’re gonna let somebody cut in line,” he added.

Immigration relaxation is not the only way to help the economy, Mr. Bush said. He also called for the proliferation of high-speed phone and cable lines that can carry huge amounts of electronic data.

“This country needs a national goal for broadband technology,” he announced. “We ought to have a universal affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007.”

The president also made clear that he wants to extend a national moratorium on Internet taxes that expired at the end of last year. He wants the extension — which has been passed by the House but not the Senate — to include broadband service in addition to the more common dial-up connections.

“Congress must not tax access to broadband technology if we want to spread it around,” he said.

Although the president was in Phoenix to promote minority homeownership, he also made a point of defending his decision to liberate Iraq, which has come under fire this week from disgruntled former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke.

“I made a choice to defend the security of the country,” Mr. Bush said. “September the 11th taught a lesson. It’s an important lesson for America. We must deal with threats before they fully materialize.”

The president emphasized that the major reason for war — Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — was assumed to be in place by not just the White House, but also Congress and the United Nations. He also pointed out that Saddam could have prevented war by coming clean on his weapons programs.

“Your choice, Mr. Saddam — he said, no, ‘I’m not interested,’” Mr. Bush said. “You see, given that choice, whether to trust the word of a madman, a man who had used chemical weapons on his own people, or to defend our country, I will choose to defend America every time.”

The line received the only standing ovation of the speech.

The president later traveled to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for the weekend.

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