Saturday, October 7, 2006

On the heels of signing a bill to boost border security funding, President Bush yesterday said immigration reform requires granting citizenship to current illegal aliens.

“You can’t kick 12 million people out of your country,” Mr. Bush said at the White House celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. “We must figure out a way to say to those that if you’re lawful and if you’ve contributed to the United States of America, there is a way for you to eventually earn citizenship.”

Since this spring, Mr. Bush has been a supporter of allowing some illegal aliens to earn citizenship, and he backed a Senate plan that divided immigrants, giving longtime illegal aliens a chance for citizenship while withholding that chance from less-entrenched illegal aliens.

Any action on immigration will have to wait until Congress returns, either during a lame-duck session after next month’s elections or next year, when a new Congress is sworn in.

But in the meantime, Mr. Bush will soon sign a bill authorizing 700 miles of fence to be built along the U.S.-Mexico border. This week he signed a spending bill that included the first installment of money for that fence, as well as for other infrastructure such as vehicle barriers and ground-based radar.

The fence is already stirring the political pot, even before construction begins.

Mexican officials sent a diplomatic protest to the Bush administration this week and have said they doubt the fence will ever be built. A report in The Washington Post yesterday seemed to concur, stating that the wording of the fence and spending measures gives the Bush administration so much leeway that it is unlikely the 700 miles will be completed.

But Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who wrote the fence provisions that passed last year as part of the House’s enforcement-only bill, said yesterday that building the fence is not optional.

He held a press conference yesterday on the U.S.-Mexico border to address the report and said the language in the bill means the administration “shall” build it.

During the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month Mr. Bush praised U.S. troops who are Hispanic, noting that more than 200,000 are in uniform now.

He also urged that the immigration debate not turn nasty.

“We are a land of immigrants, and as we debate immigration policy, we must always keep that important fact in mind,” Mr. Bush said.

It is the first time the president has used the phrase “earn citizenship,” a description popular among groups that lobby for granting rights to illegal aliens. But many critics, including Republican leaders, equate that concept with amnesty.

Mr. Bush had some fun with one of yesterday’s visitors to the White House, retired Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch, winner of the 2006 Hispanic Heritage Award for leadership.

“Interesting name, ‘Kickbusch’ — sounds like a political campaign,” the president said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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