Bush urges Senate to approve immigration bill by Memorial Day
the associated press
WASHINGTON ” President Bush urged the Senate on Tuesday to approve stalled, sweeping immigration legislation by Memorial Day, and lawmakers from both parties expressed optimism they could succeed.
Bush convened a bipartisan meeting at the White House as part of an effort to free the legislation from Senate gridlock. The bill would strengthen border protection and give most of the estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally a chance to gain citizenship eventually.
Bush said after the session that he can “report to the American people that there is a common desire” for an immigration overhaul.
“I want to thank both Republicans and Democrats for taking on this really hard, hard assignment,” Bush said. “I assured the members that I look forward to working with them as they try to get a bill out of the Senate by Memorial Day.”
“I believe him,” said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, one of several Democrats to offer rare election-year praise for the president for his involvement in the issue.
“I’m not in the habit of patting the president on the back,” Reid said after the meeting.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whom Bush praised by name, compared the president’s role to President Lyndon Johnson stepping into the 1964 stalemate over civil rights legislation.
“We still have a ways to go,” Kennedy said. “We’re all enormously gratified to the president for his interest.”
Bush did not specifically endorse the main Senate bill under consideration, but he spoke favorably about its ingredients, according to its author, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
“After this meeting, I am confident we’ll get it done,” Specter told reporters.
“I think it is doable,” concurred the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
What that solution might be remains elusive, but at least Bush and Senate Republicans were on the same page ” a stark contrast to their prickly relations in recent months. Earlier Tuesday, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee announced the same Memorial Day timetable.
In his own effort to end the standoff, Specter asked a panel of economists to come up with a guest worker program for illegal immigrants that could win approval in Congress. But the panel seemed just as split on the issue as lawmakers.
Harry J. Holzer, a public policy professor at Georgetown University, said any kind of guest worker program for illegal immigrants should set a high bar for good behavior ” by requiring those in the program to pay fines and back taxes, for example.
Dan Siciliano, director of Stanford University’s law economic and business program, said any new policy should focus on the economy’s need for immigrants, both legal and illegal.
One expert, however, agreed with an assertion by many conservatives that allowing illegal immigrants to stay and get on a path to citizenship without first having to leave the country amounts to amnesty.
“Whether it’s called amnesty or earned legalization it’s really the same thing,” Barry R. Chiswick, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the committee.
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