President Bush yesterday called on Congress to increase the number of Mexican immigrants allowed into the United States, but conceded his plan to relax immigration has little chance of passage in an election year.
“I support raising the quotas on certain population groups, like the Mexican nationals, on who can become a citizen,” Mr. Bush told a convention of minority journalists. “In order to solve the logjam for citizenship, Congress has got to raise the quotas.”
The president’s remarks came as his campaign began airing a Spanish-language TV ad in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Florida, where Hispanic voters are considered a crucial component of his re-election strategy.
“No matter where we came from, or why we came here, we found opportunity, a better education for our children, the medical care our families deserve,” says the ad’s narrator. “America, our country. George W. Bush, our president.”
Having long sought to grant legal status to illegal aliens from Mexico, the president said yesterday that the only way to enact his plan is to allocate more legal-immigration slots to Mexicans.
“The issue there is whether or not people automatically get to step in the front of the line when it comes to citizenship,” he said. “I don’t think they should. I think those who have been waiting in line to be a citizen ought to be allowed to keep that priority in line.”
Mr. Bush did not explain how non-Mexican applicants for U.S. residency would keep their place in line if the quota for Mexican immigrants is enlarged. Nor did he quantify his proposed enlargement for Mexicans, who already far outnumber immigrants from every other nation.
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said the president supports “a reasonable increase in the annual limit” of Mexican immigrants. She added, “We would work with Congress to determine what that amount was.”
The president acknowledged the chances of enlarging the quota are slim.
“Will it get done?” he said. “Probably not this year. This is an election year.
“Not much gets done, except for a lot of yelling and elbowing,” he added. “But I would like to see reasonable immigration reform come out of the Congress.”
The president’s plan to relax immigration rules, which is unpopular among many conservatives, entails granting legal status to millions of Mexicans who break the law to enter the United States. Mr. Bush shuns the term “amnesty,” preferring to call it the matching of “willing workers with will ing employers.”
“People ought to be allowed to be here legally to work. That’s what I believe,” he told the minority journalists at the Washington Convention Center. “This will help bring people out of the shadows of our society.
“This will help, kind of, legalize a system that takes place every day, without employers . . . or employees feeling like they’re going to be arrested, subjected to fines,” he added.
While endorsing the enlargement of immigration quotas for Mexicans, Mr. Bush rejected the concept of racial quotas for college admissions.
Yet he said that race could be still be considered by colleges seeking diversity.
“Race-neutral admissions policies ought to be tried,” he said. “If they don’t work to achieve an objective, which is diversification, race ought to be a factor.”
Roland Martin, a black syndicated newspaper columnist, pressed Mr. Bush on whether colleges should also scrap the practice of giving preference to “legacy” applicants. Mr. Bush, a self-described “C student,” went to Yale University, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
“If you say it’s a matter of merit and not race, shouldn’t colleges also get rid of legacy?” Mr. Martin demanded, prompting applause from the audience. “Because that’s not based upon merit. That’s based upon if my daddy or my granddaddy went to my college.”
“I thought you were referring to my legacy,” the president said with a laugh.
“That’s why I allowed you to go ahead and bring it out,” Mr. Martin replied.
“Well, in my case, I had to knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man’s footsteps,” Mr. Bush said.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan later explained to reporters, “The president was referring to how hard he had to work to follow his father into the White House.”
Pressed by Mr. Martin to call for the abolition of legacy preferences in colleges, the president acquiesced.
“I agree, I don’t think there ought to be,” he said. “I think colleges ought to use merit in order for people to get in.”
During the conference, which was sponsored by a group called Unity: Journalists of Color, Mr. Bush was interrupted by a heckler who shouted: “Shame on you, Mr. Bush! Shame on you for your violence! Shame on you for lying to the media and deceiving the public!”