Byline: Joseph Curl and Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Bush last night called for reforming U.S. immigration laws, saying that the current system is "outdated" and that lawmakers need to create a new policy that accepts "hard-working people" while protecting America's borders.
The president said current laws "invite chaos at our borders," in one paragraph that was the only reference to immigration reform in his speech. Mr. Bush had pledged to make his "guest-worker" proposal a top priority for his second-term agenda.
"It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country, and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists," Mr. Bush said.
But the president has a tough sell with many members of his own party, who said that what he is proposing is an amnesty.
"He is the only person around that I know of that does not think what he is talking about is amnesty. He is creating a new Webster's dictionary definition," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
Mr. Tancredo said Mr. Bush, by devoting so little time to immigration, was saying volumes about the issue.
"It was short. It was designed to essentially pay attention to what he knows is a big issue, but he's not going to dwell on it because he knows his position is not a winning position," the Colorado Republican said, adding that he hopes that means Mr. Bush will not spend much political capital on this issue.
Mr. Bush told The Washington Times in an Oval Office interview last month that he planned to spend "political capital" this year to force debate in Congress over his immigration reform. He predicted that he would prevail, saying reforming immigration laws is a "high priority" and a "big issue."
Mr. Bush last night called the immigration system "outdated" and "unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country."
"We should not be content with laws that punish hard-working people who want only to provide for their families, and deny businesses willing workers," he said.
Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said Mr. Bush, by sticking to a broad principle, has perfectly laid the ground for the debate.
"I think it's a great setup actually. I'm really pleased," he said. "The president, Karl Rove, they have been very clear since the election, this is a priority. They included it in the short list that made it into the State of the Union."
Last January, Mr. Bush proposed a "guest-worker" program, which would allow up to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States to take jobs that American workers don't want. They would be eligible for renewable three-year work visas.
Mr. Bush contends that his plan is not an amnesty and is far different from the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted amnesty to 2.7 million undocumented residents and sought to stop further illegal immigration through penalties on employers. …