WASHINGTON—Although immigration reform has been touted as a top priority in President Bush’s second term, he gave it short shrift Tuesday and offered little guidance on how Congress should deal with an issue that has deeply divided Republicans.
Apparently hoping to appeal to both sides in the debate, Bush heeded conservatives by calling for stronger border protection, but he also renewed his call for a “rational, humane guest worker program” for illegal immigrants now in the country.
“We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy, even though this economy could not function without them,” the president told Congress.
“Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values and serves the interests of our economy,” he added.
This was the third straight year Bush has called for an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws in his State of the Union address.
During that time, Bush has become more vague about legislative approaches as the Republican party has become more divided over his plan to make temporary visas available to illegal immigrants already in the United States.
Bush again asked for a temporary visa program that is strongly backed by the GOP’s business base. But he made no mention, as he has in the past, of a “path to citizenship” for illegal workers—an idea labeled as amnesty by his conservative critics. Instead, Bush said, the visa program should reject amnesty.
At the same time, the president said, there is a need for “stronger immigration enforcement and border protection.”
Bush’s comments were in line with advice he received from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
“If you start talking about guest worker programs or the economics of it, people look at you and wonder whether you are really listening to what people across the country are saying,” Cornyn said. “Because people across the country are saying they are concerned about border security first.”