Tuesday, April 10, 2007

As important as what President Bush said yesterday on the U.S.-Mexico border is what he left out, according to those who follow the issue: He did nothing to endorse the draft immigration principles to which the White House and Senate Republicans appeared to have agreed.

Mr. Bush also renewed his support for granting a path to citizenship, ending speculation that he was backing off a central piece of the Senate compromise reached last year by saying illegal aliens who meet conditions and pay fines “should be able to apply for citizenship.”

“He didn’t cozy up to the specifics of the PowerPoint, and he was really clear we need a practical answer that’s somewhere between automatic citizenship, which nobody is advocating, and mass deportation,” said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, which wants Congress to pass a legalization bill. “If he wanted to close doors to people getting green cards, this would have been the time to do it.”

The White House’s PowerPoint presentation to key Republican senators two weeks ago shook the immigration debate. It seemed to indicate that the administration was taking a much harder line toward illegal aliens by proposing huge fines, requirements that aliens return home briefly and a much longer path to citizenship. It also suggested that future foreign workers not be allowed to bring their families or have a path to citizenship.

Advisers said Mr. Bush is using his public profile and speeches such as the one he gave yesterday to U.S. Border Patrol agents in Yuma, Ariz., to pressure congressional Democrats and Republicans to negotiate an immigration bill this year.

Still, he did little to bridge the gap between the parties. Democrats say he is squandering chances for an agreement by not taking a firmer stand against members of his own party.

“They are walking away,” said Simon B. Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, which has taken a lead role in pushing for an immigration bill. “They walked in ‘06 in the House and now this thing they’re proposing is walking away from the bipartisan consensus that has driven this issue, and to characterize what the Republican senators are floating as anything other than walking away from the deal would be inaccurate.”

Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican who is exploring a presidential candidacy, said Mr. Bush is peddling “amnesty lite.”

“That is just not acceptable and places an unfair burden on the American taxpayers and is an affront to the immigrants who came to this country legally,” he said.

Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican, who joined Mr. Bush yesterday, said a bill that allows a new pathway to citizenship “can’t win the votes of a significant number, much less a majority, of congressional Republicans and cannot pass Congress.”

Also joining Mr. Bush yesterday were Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat; and three other members of Arizona’s House delegation. Absent was Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. His campaign office said he was in Arizona yesterday but had scheduling conflicts.

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