Bush's Spanish Lessons; for President Bush, Immigration Isn't a Dry Policy Debate. It's Personal. Start with the Mexican-Born American Citizen Who Tends His House and Helped Raise His Kids

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Wolffe, Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas (With Andrew Murr in Yuma and Eleanor Clift)

President George W. Bush seemed unusually heartfelt when he addressed the nation last week on immigration reform. For the president, immigration is not just a matter of politics or policy, it's personal. Bush has always been drawn to stories of Latino immigrants who came up by their bootstraps. In an interview with Hispanic Magazine in 2004, he described Paula Rendon, "who came up from Mexico to work in our house" when Bush was a boy growing up in Midland, Texas. "She loved me. She chewed me out. She tried to shape me up," said Bush. "And I have grown to love her like a second mom." Bush recalled Rendon's pride in seeing "her grandkids go to college for the first time."

Bush has another inspiring example close to home. For more than a decade, Maria Galvan, 53, has worked for Bush, looked after his daughters, befriended his wife and won the affection of the First Family for her loyalty, decency and hard work. As governor of Texas, Bush encouraged his housekeeper to become a U.S. citizen. Bush's own brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, married a Latino, and Jeb's eldest son, George P. Bush, is seen as a candidate to go into the family business.

Bush has a history of promoting Latinos, most notably Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who recently told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that "it's unclear" whether his grandparents emigrated legally from Mexico. Bush has always spoken emotionally about Gonzales, the son of hard-working but uneducated migrant workers. Bush recognized early on that inspiring Latino family stories could be a boon to the Republican Party. "He appreciates how close Latino families are with each other," says Israel Hernandez, an early campaign aide whom Bush hired after hearing his family story. "For a long time, he's talked about how these are the qualities he thinks the party represents. He has always talked about immigration in a very compassionate way." But the president's willingness to help illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship sets him apart from many vocal conservatives in the GOP. The divide could paralyze the effort to bring much-needed reform to the nation's immigration laws. The issue has become, in a way, too personal: a source of more heat than light in the body politic.

There is general agreement in Congress over the need to get control of the borders and enforce existing immigration laws. Last week Bush proposed a plan that could position up to 6,000 National Guard troops along the Mexican border for a year or so while beefing up the Border Patrol (from about 12,000 to 18,000 by 2008). The troops would not be sent to "militarize" the border with Mexico, Bush hastened to add, or even to arrest illegals coming over the border, but rather to provide logistical support, monitor surveillance cameras and do construction. Bush proposed building high-tech fences in urban corridors to help staunch the flow, as well as deploying a host of new gizmos like motion sensors and unmanned aerial drones.

Bush also put forth a "temporary-worker program" to "match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing." Such a program would probably be acceptable to House conservatives, according to a GOP leadership aide who declined to be identified discussing politically sensitive matters. But any plan that "smacks of amnesty"--that offers a way for the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants now in the United States to become citizens--is a nonstarter, according to this aide. The aide said that House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner would block a plan, proposed by Bush, that would let illegals apply for citizenship after spending five years in the United States, learning English and paying a fine and back taxes. (As a sop to conservatives, the Senate last week passed a bill making English the national language of the United States. …