Released 29 November 2005  By Susan Carroll, Pat Flannery, Yvonne Wingett and Jon Kamman - The Arizona Republic
Bush: Secure border, no amnesty
President stops off in Arizona
Susan Carroll, Pat Flannery, Yvonne Wingett and Jon Kamman
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 29, 2005
President Bush came to Arizona on Monday to restate his core principles on immigration reform, taking hard stances against amnesty and in favor of strong border security.
"Illegal immigration is a serious challenge. And our responsibility is clear: We are going to protect the border," Bush said in his televised speech Monday afternoon from Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The speech was designed to mend rifts in the Republican Party and woo back conservatives.
Bush later traveled to Phoenix to address a political fund-raiser for Sen. Jon Kyl, who faces a stiff re-election challenge next year from Democrat Jim Pederson.
Bush's Phoenix visit was greeted by 500 to 600 war protesters who marched and held signs near 24th Street and Camelback Road, just a stone's throw from Kyl's fund-raiser at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa.
The president spent Monday night at Phoenix's Royal Palms Resort and Spa and was to depart this morning for El Paso.
Bush's Tucson speech had few new details of his plan for immigration reform, which was first outlined in January 2004. Instead, he repeated broad goals of improving border security while creating a temporary-worker program.
Bush's 2004 immigration reform outline would permit "temporary workers" to stay in the United States for up to six years before returning home but would not offer undocumented immigrants an automatic path toward citizenship.
On Monday, Bush shied away from such details. He did not endorse either of two different immigration bills sponsored by key Arizona Republicans: Kyl and his Arizona colleague, Sen. John McCain, both of whom attended the speech along with Gov. Janet Napolitano and two Bush Cabinet members, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Immigration experts suggested Bush's speech was chiefly an attempt to mend rifts in the GOP over immigration policy by stressing the need for a hardened border, a topic of paramount interest to party conservatives, while affirming the goal of providing a steady and legal supply of necessary foreign labor for U.S. employers.
Veto threatened Against a backdrop of Customs and Border Protection officers and a gleaming law enforcement helicopter, Bush threatened to veto any plan that offered "amnesty" to undocumented immigrants.
"We're going to secure the border by catching those who enter illegally and hardening the border to prevent illegal crossings," he said. "We're going to strengthen enforcement of our immigration laws within our country. And together with Congress, we're going to create a temporary-worker program that will take pressure off the border, bring workers from out of the shadows and reject amnesty."
He added, "Rewarding those who have broken the law would encourage others to break the law and keep pressure on our border."
Bush also stressed the need for greater workplace enforcement, which the business community staunchly opposes.
"Listen, there's a lot of opinions on this proposal. I understand that. But people in this debate must recognize that we will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary-worker program," he said.
Julieta G., 25, an undocumented Mexican living in Phoenix and working as housekeeper at a Valley hotel, said that a guest-worker plan would not work without provisions to make workers legal permanent residents.
"I don't believe it's realistic," said Julieta, who asked that her last name not be used. "The workers want to stay. They have lives here."
Roel Hernandez, a legal resident and native of Chihuahua, Mexico, said a proposal that allows only immigrants to "fill jobs that Americans will not do" could prevent thousands of them from thriving in this country.
"There are a lot of illegal immigrants in this country that have businesses," said Hernandez, 33, a Scottsdale resident. "He is forcing illegal immigrants to stick to only a couple of jobs, the jobs that require long hours and are very hard, (such as) working in the fields and construction."
Because the business community increasingly relies on foreign labor, some business leaders worry a crackdown without a new guest-worker program will leave many businesses without workers.
"It would kill me," said Andres Perez, who employs about 60 workers at N&A Landscaping. "There has to be a system put in place where they can come to this country and work instead of having to sacrifice their lives, like walking through the desert like my workers have."
Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said Bush's comments add urgency to the push for reform.
"This is like the gun you shoot at the beginning of the race or the bell that you ring at the beginning of a classroom discussion," Jacoby said. "This is the president saying, 'OK, we're going to get serious about this now. Congress is going to work on it. I'm going to put my political capital behind it.' "
Yet because the terms Bush outlined Monday were not carefully defined, critics suggest he is leaving himself "wiggle room" for political positioning in the looming debate on Capitol Hill.
The House is expected to take up the matter of border security between now and Christmas, while the Senate could tackle immigration reform early next year.
"I think he's trying to tell a restive populist base in his party that he gets it," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. "It's a way to say, 'We understand that we need to get better control of our borders.' "
Sharry was surprised that Bush did not try to influence the debate in Congress by discussing existing proposals, particularly since McCain and Kyl, the authors of rival Senate measures, were present.
"Will it (the speech) change what's already scheduled to happen in Congress? Not one iota," Sharry said.
Kyl, however, said Bush's aim "was to reorder the priorities, to make it clear that he is committed first and foremost to securing the border, secondly to enforcing the law in the interior, and third, in enforcing it at the workplace. That's how you have an effective temporary-work program."
"If anything was new, I think it was a reassertion of his commitment to secure the border," Kyl said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, dismissed the speech as political posturing.
"It's packaging, it's spin. That's all this is," he said.
Krikorian gave Bush credit for one thing: "This is the first time I've ever heard the president praise Customs and Border Protection agents. This was an important thing to do."
Immigration was not the only item on Bush's Arizona agenda. After being greeted at Sky Harbor International Airport by Freedom Corps volunteer Father William Mitchell, who works with troubled children in the East Valley, Bush was whisked to Kyl's $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser to hobnob with Arizona's GOP elite.
Pederson, who hopes to unseat Kyl next year, said he was "very disappointed" in Bush's speech because it focused on "more border regulation" without recommending specifics or addressing the needs of border states and communities.
"It was just a rehash," Pederson said, faulting the president for saying nothing about federal reimbursement of state and local costs of providing law enforcement, health care and education for undocumented immigrants.
"The president lumped the McCain and Kyl bills together, but they are diametrically different," said Pederson, who supports the McCain bill co-sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
"If we don't have leadership out of the president, there will be no immigration reform next year," he said
A few blocks from Kyl's event, war protesters lined the corners of 24th Street and Camelback Road for more than two hours.
"We need responsive government, and we don't have it," said Frank Shine, 66, a Mesa veteran who attended the protest. Shine said Bush should heed polls indicating growing public sentiment for a U.S. pullout from Iraq.
Victor Ramos, 37, of Phoenix, a first-time protester who attended at a friend's urging, said he hoped Bush would take note of the protest.
"We don't agree with the war, or how he's using our taxes and money," Ramos said.