Monday, March 27, 2006

President Bush yesterday told Congress to increase legal immigration and temporary visas as part of the debate over illegal aliens and enforcement.

“I’ve called on Congress to increase the number of green cards that can lead to citizenship,” Mr. Bush said. “I support increasing the number of visas available for foreign-born workers in highly skilled fields like science, medicine and technology.”

At a naturalization ceremony, Mr. Bush also made a strong statement against amnesty, telling 30 new citizens at DAR Constitution Hall that it would be unfair to them to let illegal aliens jump the line for citizenship.

“All of you are here because you followed the rules, and you waited your turn in the citizenship line,” Mr. Bush said. “Yet some violate our immigration laws and enter our country illegally, and that undermines the system for all of us.”

Mr. Bush wants to shape the immigration debate on Capitol Hill, but he is walking a fine line. He wants a temporary-worker program but no special path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

“Granting amnesty would be unfair, because it would allow those who break the law to jump ahead of people like you all, people who play by the rules and have waited in the line for citizenship,” he told those who took the oath of citizenship.

The president first called for more green cards in 2004 when he announced his guest-worker proposal. Green cards signify permanent legal residence and are the key intermediate step toward citizenship.

Mr. Bush has not said how big an increase he seeks.

The House passed an immigration bill last year that deals only with enforcement. The Senate begins its immigration debate today.

Yesterday evening, the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared a bill that would legalize almost all illegal aliens in a multistep path to citizenship and increase yearly legal immigration by hundreds of thousands of people.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not say whether Mr. Bush would veto a bill that addresses only border security.

“It’s way too early to jump ahead in the legislative process,” he said.

Mr. Bush last week told proponents of a guest-worker plan that he expects to have the most influence on the debate when the House and Senate go to conference on their bills.

For now, Mr. Bush’s tactic has been to highlight the accomplishments of immigrants. The naturalization ceremony gave him and other top administration officials a chance to do that.

Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, administered the oath, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales helped present naturalization certificates.

“Today we all leave this great building as equal citizens,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “There is nothing more valuable than your American citizenship. Cherish it, nourish it, promote it and defend it.”

All 30 new citizens were from Virginia, which is part of the Washington district. No D.C. residents took part because, as a federal territory, D.C. residents must be administered the oath by a federal judge.

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