President Bush Addresses Nation on Immigration Reform
by Jose Cardenas and Chris Collins, USCM Interns
May 22, 2006
In a nationally televised address May 15, President George W. Bush spoke to the nation regarding the issue of immigration reform. The President’s address came as the Senate debates the issue. In December of last year, the House of Representatives passed H.R.4437. The bill, sponsored by Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner (WI), would fortify the U.S.-Mexico border with a 700 mile fence and 12,000 border patrol agents. Additionally, the bill would make it a felony to be in the United States without proper documentation and require employers to participate in an electronic employment eligibility verification system. The bill also criminalizes individuals who help illegal aliens in the country. The bill sparked a controversy that has led to a national debate and protests across the nation.
The President called for comprehensive immigration reform. He outlined five major goals and urged Congress to include them in a final immigration bill that he said he would sign. The goals are as follows:
- First, the President expressed the need to secure the border. He called on Congress to approve funding for 6,000 more border patrol officers by the end of 2008. Meanwhile, he ordered 6,000 National Guardsman to the border to assist the Border Patrol in Border enforcement.
- Second, the President called on Congress to pass a guest worker program. He argued that a guest worker program would reduce the number of people trying to sneak into the country illegally and match willing workers with willing employers.
- Third, the President stressed the need to hold employers accountable for the hiring of undocumented workers. He expressed sympathy for employers due the difficulty of verifying fake documents and called for a new worker identification card with biometric technology that would make it difficult for undocumented workers to gain employment.
- Fourth, while the President rejected "an automatic path to citizenship,” or amnesty, he acknowledged that there are millions of illegal immigrants in the country with “roots.” He argued that these immigrants should be given a legal path to citizenship provided they learn English, pay back taxes, pay a fine, have been employed for a number of years, and have a clean criminal record. Furthermore, these immigrants will have to wait in line behind those who have already begun the legal citizenship process.
- Finally the President called on the nation to honor the “great American tradition of the melting pot.” He stressed the importance to America’s success of talented newcomers being assimilated into our society, and the necessity of national cohesion via patriotism, shared ideals and English literacy.
The Senate last week was debating a proposed bill by Senator Mel Martinez (FL) and Chuck Hagel (NB), S.2611, that also calls for more border patrol agents, 2,400 each year until 2011, and requires that employers participate in an employment verification system. However, this bill would not criminalize individuals who aid illegal immigrants, except those who help immigrants cross the border, and includes provisions for a guest worker program as well as a legal path to citizenship for immigrants who have been in the country for five or more years and have been employed for three or more of those years and who meet other requirements, such as learning English, have a clean criminal record, pay back taxes and pay a fine.
The United States Conference of Mayors will consider proposed resolutions regarding the illegal immigration debate at the 74th Annual United States Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting in Las Vegas June 2-6.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has proposed that the Conference of Mayors adopt a resolution that supports comprehensive immigration reform that would improve security, bolster economic prosperity, and provide the approximately 12 million people already in the U.S. without legal authorization an opportunity to earn their permanent residence and citizenship, provided (1) they have not committed serious crimes, (2) they have learned, or are in the process of learning English, and (3) they pay taxes and social security on their earnings.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, with the support of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and Providence Mayor David N. Cicciline all support the adoption of similarly comprehensive reform policy that strengthens border security while opposing the criminalization of undocumented workers already in the U.S. while also opposing a federal mandate that local governments enforce immigration laws that are by their nature, a federal responsibility.
Laredo Mayor Elizabeth G. Flores, supported by Diaz and Albuquerque Mayor Martin J. Chavez, support policy that opposes the construction of security fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border as proposed in H.R.4437. While fully supportive of the federal government’s efforts to enforce our national immigration laws, the mayors believe that a wall would create unnecessary misunderstanding between neighboring cross-border cities in the U.S. and Mexico, would be inefficient and expensive and negatively impact our historic U.S. relations with Mexico.