President Bush today will call for a crackdown on illegal immigration, a move aimed at further rallying conservatives who recently cheered Mr. Bush’s tough talk on Iraq and the Supreme Court.
But the president will also renew his call for a program to allow Mexicans who have already entered the U.S. illegally to remain here for up to six years. That initiative has long angered conservatives who equate it with amnesty.
“This is going to be about comprehensive immigration reform,” a senior White House official said of today’s Arizona speech. “He’s going to talk about the three elements that comprise such reform — border security, interior enforcement and a temporary worker program.”
Mr. Bush will deliver his speech at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, about 90 miles from the Mexican border, after being briefed by customs and border patrol officials. Tomorrow, he meets with another group of border officials in El Paso, Texas.
The emphasis on border security is a change of focus for the president, who spent his first term talking almost exclusively about finding ways to allow illegal aliens to remain in the U.S. He shifted gears last month, placating conservatives who were rebelling against his Oct. 3 nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the SupremeCourt.
“We’re going to get control of our borders,” Mr. Bush said on Oct. 18. “Our goal is clear — to return every single illegal entrant, with no exceptions.”
But the escalation in rhetoric did not distract Republicans from continuing to question the conservative credentials of Miss Miers, who withdrew her nomination Oct. 27. In the ensuing month, Mr. Bush has worked hard to mollify his political base.
For starters, he nominated Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. Previously disaffected conservatives rejoiced to learn that Mr. Alito once wrote that “the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion.”
“I am and always have been a conservative,” he added in a 1985 document first reported by The Washington Times. “I am a lifelong registered Republican.”
Conservatives were further heartened in recent weeks when Mr. Bush began to fight back against Democrats who accused him of manipulating prewar intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq.
“It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began,” he said Nov. 11.
Vice President Dick Cheney went even further a week ago by accusing Democrats of “corrupt and shameless” revisionism and calling their demands for a pullout “self-defeating pessimism.”
Today, Mr. Bush will seek to perpetuate the conservative rally by going on the offensive against illegal aliens from Mexico. He will be joined in Tucson by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has begun to pour money, manpower and technology into beefing up security on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“What we’re building to over the next two to three years is a system where we have control of the border,” Mr. Chertoff told Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” in an interview this month.
Yet Mr. Chertoff hinted that many Mexicans who have already entered the U.S. illegally will never be deported.
“We’ve got, according to some estimates, 10 to 11 million illegals already in this country working. And the cost of identifying all of those people and sending them back would be stupendous. It would be billions and billions of dollars.”
“It’s really an issue of practicality,” Mr. Chertoff said in the same interview, defending the administration’s guest-worker proposal.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate are in various stages of drafting and proposing legislation on immigration. Some bills focus mostly on border security, while others also would create programs for guest workers.