Bush Rejects Mass Deportation of Illegal Aliens; Critics Say 'No One Is Talking' about Such a Dramatic Move

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Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

IRVINE, Calif. - President Bush yesterday ruled out deporting the estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the United States and also praised a plan that offers a path to citizenship for many current illegal aliens.

"Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It's just not going to work," he told the Orange County Business Council. "You hear people out there hollering, 'It's going to work.' It's not going to work."

But those who want a crackdown on illegal immigration said mass deportations aren't what they seek.

"Straw-man alert," warned Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican. "There are so many straw men in the immigration debate that you think it's taking place in Nebraska, not Washington.

"No one is talking about mass deportations," he said. "Our approach is one of attrition where you make it difficult for an illegal alien to get a job in this country or to access our social services, so that over time, illegal aliens stop coming to this country and the ones already here go home."

Mr. Bush is trying to jump-start the immigration debate, which stalled in the Senate two weeks ago, when no plan was able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.

He is scheduled to meet with Republican and Democratic senators today to urge them to pass a guest-worker bill and go to conference with the House, which passed an enforcement-only bill last year.

Yesterday, the president gave his strongest praise yet of a Senate plan that gives illegal aliens who have lived in the U.S. more than five years a path to citizenship, calling it "an interesting concept that people need to think through."

"A person ought to be allowed to get in line. In other words, pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system, and get in the back of the line," he said, using language resembling that of Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, who want a path to citizenship for all illegal aliens.

But moments earlier, Mr. Bush also seemed to side with those who oppose a path to citizenship, saying illegal aliens should remain "on a temporary basis," though he said what "temporary" means "will be decided in the halls of Congress."

That is a change from his administration's earlier position. In October, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao told the Senate Judiciary Committee that illegal aliens and future foreign workers should have access to a temporary program that allows them to work legally for up to two three-year periods and then must go home. …