The text of President Bush’s address on US immigration policy

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening. I’ve asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of national importance
— the reform of America’s immigration system.

The issue of immigration stirs intense emotions, and in recent
weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display. On the streets of
major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country
illegally. At our southern border, others have organized to stop
illegal immigrants from coming in. Across the country, Americans are
trying to reconcile these contrasting images. And in Washington, the
debate over immigration reform has reached a time of decision. Tonight,
I will make it clear where I stand, and where I want to lead our
country on this vital issue.

We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration
system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control
of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have
been able to sneak across our border, and millions have stayed.

Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society.
Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for
employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal. Illegal
immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, it strains
state and local budgets, and brings crime to our communities. These are
real problems. Yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal
immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families,
practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of
American life, but they are beyond the reach and protection of American
law.

We’re a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a
nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has
strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory
goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the
same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and
we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I
support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five
clear objectives.

First, the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic
responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement
of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border
should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal
immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

I was a governor of a state that has a 1,200-mile border with
Mexico. So I know how difficult it is to enforce the border, and how
important it is. Since I became President, we’ve increased funding for
border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from
about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. The men and women of our Border Patrol
are doing a fine job in difficult circumstances, and over the past five
years, they have apprehended and sent home about six million people
entering America illegally.

Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the
border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I’m calling on
Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and
technology at the border. By the end of 2008, we’ll increase the number
of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents
are deployed, we’ll have more than doubled the size of the Border
Patrol during my presidency.

At the same time, we’re launching the most technologically advanced
border security initiative in American history. We will construct
high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and
barriers in rural areas. We’ll employ motion sensors, infrared cameras,
and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has
the best technology in the world, and we will ensure that the Border
Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our
border.

Training thousands of new Border Patrol agents and bringing the most
advanced technology to the border will take time. Yet the need to
secure our border is urgent. So I’m announcing several immediate steps
to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition:

One way to help during this transition is to use the National Guard.
So, in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be
deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the
lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance
systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle
barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training. Guard units
will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities — that duty
will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard
members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of
Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new
technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we
have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to
natural disasters, and to help secure our border.

The United States is not going to militarize the southern border.
Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend. We will continue to work
cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, to
confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, and to reduce
illegal immigration.

Another way to help during this period of transition is through
state and local law enforcement in our border communities. So we’ll
increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the
Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. We will give state and
local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal
officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants. State and local law
enforcement officials are an important part of our border security and
they need to be a part of our strategy to secure our borders.

The steps I’ve outlined will improve our ability to catch people
entering our country illegally. At the same time, we must ensure that
every illegal immigrant we catch crossing our southern border is
returned home. More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch
crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home
within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other
country [sic] it is not as easy to send them home. For many years, the
government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to
hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back
into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date
arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called
“catch and release,” is unacceptable, and we will end it.

We’re taking several important steps to meet this goal. We’ve
expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will
continue to add more. We’ve expedited the legal process to cut the
average deportation time. And we’re making it clear to foreign
governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our
immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we’ve ended “catch and
release” for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask
Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end
“catch and release” at the southern border once and for all. When
people know that they’ll be caught and sent home if they enter our
country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in.

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker
program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of
our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a
better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or
hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates
enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not
stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of
people trying to sneak across.

Therefore, I support a temporary worker program that would create a
legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way,
for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign
workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not
doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to
pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to
their home country at the conclusion of their stay.

A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and
it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families
while respecting the law. A temporary worker program would reduce the
appeal of human smugglers, and make it less likely that people would
risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial
burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers
with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would
add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and
why they are here.

Third, we need to hold employers to account for the workers they
hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country
illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their
employees because of the widespread problem of document fraud.
Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better
system for verifying documents and work eligibility. A key part of that
system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign
worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital
fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help
us enforce the law, and leave employers with no excuse for violating
it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our
country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally
in the first place.

Fourth, we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants
are here already. They should not be given an automatic path to
citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair
to those who are here lawfully, and it would invite further waves of
illegal immigration.

Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every
illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to
amnesty. I disagree. It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up
millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send
them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between
granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant,
and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes there
are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border
recently, and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a
home, a family, and an otherwise clean record.

I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and
want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the
law, to pay their taxes, to learn English, and to work in a job for a
number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to
apply for citizenship, but approval would not be automatic, and they
will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and
followed the law. What I’ve just described is not amnesty, it is a way
for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and
demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

Fifth, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting
pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples. The success of
our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society,
and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound
together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect
for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English
language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of
America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a
grocery, from cleaning offices to running offices, from a life of
low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When
immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their
dreams, they renew our spirit, and they add to the unity of America.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to members of the House and the
Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because
all elements of this problem must be addressed together, or none of
them will be solved at all. The House has passed an immigration bill.
The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the
differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a
comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned
and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue, and as we work it
out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a
unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone’s
fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We
must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates
and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no
matter what their citizenship papers say.

I know many of you listening tonight have a parent or a grandparent
who came here from another country with dreams of a better life. You
know what freedom meant to them, and you know that America is a more
hopeful country because of their hard work and sacrifice. As President,
I’ve had the opportunity to meet people of many backgrounds, and hear
what America means to them. On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital,
Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master
Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he
was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then
he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was
able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean
was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made
two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him, and the chance
to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his
right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had
defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.

We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as
fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they’ve always been
— people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom. And
America remains what she has always been: the great hope on the
horizon, an open door to the future, a blessed and promised land. We
honor the heritage of all who come here, no matter where they come
from, because we trust in our country’s genius for making us all
Americans — one nation under God.

Thank you, and good night.

END 8:18 P.M. EDT

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