President George W. Bush is trying to build support for a comprehensive immigration strategy _ and mollify conservatives wary of his guest worker plan for foreigners _ even though Congress has largely shelved the issue for now.
The Senate has postponed its work on immigration proposals until early next year, partly because lawmakers are divided over the scope of such changes and whether foreigners illegally working in the United States should be allowed to stay. The House hopes to tackle some border security measures before adjourning, but little time remains and it has other issues on its plate.
The president left his Crawford, Texas, ranch after spending nearly a week there for Thanksgiving, to pitch his plan in Tucson, Arizona, on Monday, and El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday. The border states are home to Republican senators who have been vocal on the need to change immigration laws but who aren't entirely sold on Bush's vision.
The president's plan pairs a guest worker program for foreigners with border security enforcement, an attempt to satisfy both his business supporters, who believe foreign workers help the economy, and his conservative backers, who take a hard line on illegal immigration.
In Tucson, the president planned to aim his remarks at those conservatives, emphasizing his proposals to secure the border, remove people who enter the country illegally and strengthen enforcement of immigration laws. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid asked Bush in a letter Monday to encourage bipartisan and realistic reforms to immigration laws.
The Democrat implored Bush to "stand up to the right wing of your party and stand up for what is right" by taking more than an enforcement-only approach to illegal immigration. The president's two-day push on border security and immigration comes a month after Bush signed a $32 billion (Ђ27 billion) homeland security bill for 2006 that contains large increases for border protection, including 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents.
Bush has been urging Congress to act on a guest worker program for more than a year. Under his plan, undocumented aliens would be allowed to get three-year work visas. They could extend that for an additional three years, but would then have to return to their home countries for a year to apply for a new work permit.
The guest worker program has met some resistance in Congress, where several bills on the issue have been introduced. Republican Sen. John McCain, along with Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, has proposed providing illegal aliens in the United States visas for up to six years. After that, they must either leave the United States or apply for lawful permanent residency.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Jon Kyl support an alternative proposal that would require illegal aliens to return to their home country to apply for a temporary worker program. Senate Republican leaders plan to take up legislation early next year that will address a guest worker program. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives have indicated they want to take up border security first and then move to a guest worker program, the AP reported.
While in Arizona on Monday, the president also planned to attend a fund-raiser in Phoenix for Kyl as campaigning for next year's congressional elections gets under way.