President Bush said Monday that revamping the nation’s immigration laws should be done in a “civil and dignified way” without preying on people’s fears or portraying immigrants as a threat to the country’s identity when they have been crucial in shaping America.
“Completing a comprehensive bill is not going to be easy,” Bush warned after a naturalization ceremony in Washington to swear in 30 new American citizens from 20 countries. But he said it would give lawmakers a chance to “move beyond tired choices and the harsh attitudes of the past.”
Bush said his plan for immigration reform involves a three-pronged approach that includes securing the country’s borders, strengthening immigration enforcement inside the country and creating a temporary guest worker program.
“Nobody benefits when the illegal immigrants live in the shadows of society,” Bush said after the ceremony at the Daughters of the American Revolution Building. “Everyone suffers when people seeking to provide for their families are left at the mercy of criminals or stuffed in the back of 18-wheelers or abandoned in the desert to die.” More than 1.1 million people were caught trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2004.
“The immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and dignified way,” Bush said. “No one should play on people’s fears, or try to pit neighbors against each other. No one should pretend that immigrants are threats to America’s identity, because immigrants have shaped America’s identity. No one should claim that immigrants are a burden on our economy, because the work and enterprise of immigrants helps sustain our economy.”
As immigration rights activists rallied outside the Capitol, senators broke Monday from the House’s get-tough approach by refusing to make criminals of people who help illegal immigrants.
The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would protect church and charitable groups, as well as individuals, from criminal prosecution for providing food, shelter, medical care and counseling to undocumented immigrants.
“Charitable organizations, like individuals, should be able to provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants without fearing prosecution,” Durbin said.
The committee also approved more than doubling the current force of 11,300 Border Patrol agents in an effort to stem the tide of new undocumented workers arriving daily. It voted to add 2,000 agents next year and 2,400 more annually through 2011.
In December the House voted to make offers of non-emergency aid a felony. Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas, proposed Monday requiring humanitarian groups providing aid to illegal immigrants to register with the Department of Homeland Security but withdrew the idea in the face of opposition from the Senate panel.
More than 500,000 people rallied in Los Angeles on Saturday, demanding that Congress abandon the House-passed measures that would make being an undocumented immigrant a felony and would erect a 700-mile fence along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
Similar but smaller protests were held in Dallas, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend. On Monday, thousands of demonstrators, many waving U.S. and Mexican flags, marched through Detroit. And hundreds of students walked out of high schools Monday in Dallas and Huntington Park, Calif.