Bush raises immigration issue at Miami commuter college

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Apr 29 13:53:11 UTC 2007

Bush takes another run at the border

Speaking in Miami, he raises the immigration issue in a bid to regain some
momentum on domestic policy.

By James Gerstenzang, Times Staff Writer
April 29, 2007

MIAMI President Bush renewed his efforts Saturday to address a major
domestic policy challenge one that possibly remains in reach by telling
graduating students that the United States must build new immigration laws
around economic needs and border protection, while helping newcomers join
American society. As part of a daylong trip to southern Florida mixing
politics with policy, Bush addressed graduates, their families and other
guests at the Kendall campus of Miami Dade College, a commuter college in
a largely Latino district. Earlier, Bush raised $1 million for the
Republican National Committee at a luncheon in Key Biscayne.

The president's choice of topic and locale for his immigration remarks
underscored the challenges he faces, as he seeks to avoid a standstill on
domestic policy and move toward a long-held goal of building new
Republican support among Latino voters while talking about something other
than the Iraq war. Bush made only a passing reference to the war in his
19-minute speech. Along with his weekly radio address Saturday morning
also on immigration the remarks raised the visibility of the issue. They
were intended, Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott Stanzel said, to
signal to Congress the importance Bush attaches to it, at the end of a
week in which radio talk-show hosts and others lobbied in Washington for
tougher immigration laws.

The president said the nation's immigration system was "not working" and
could not be fixed piecemeal. He called for a comprehensive approach "that
will allow us to secure our borders and enforce our laws once and for all,
that will keep us competitive in a global economy, and that will resolve
the status of those already here, without amnesty and without animosity."
He saluted the diversity exemplified by Miami and the college, pointing
out that more than half of its students were raised speaking a language
other than English. "Over the years, America's ability to assimilate new
immigrants has set us apart from other nations. What makes us Americans is
a shared belief in democracy and liberty. And now our nation faces a vital
challenge: to build an immigration system that upholds these ideals and
meets America's needs in the 21st century."

For Bush, it was a day of organized adulation first among Republican
contributors; then, in a blue academic gown with black stripes, among
students who gave him three ovations before he began speaking and
interrupted him more than a dozen times with applause as he praised their
struggle to obtain an education and their diversity. With Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate, his approval ratings dipping in one
recent survey below 30%, and much of his attention taken up by the war,
Bush has had little opportunity to make a major impact on domestic policy
or to advance new programs.

The White House aims to win reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind
education law that was a signature domestic policy achievement of his
first term, and Bush speaks occasionally about shifting the nation's
reliance on petroleum to ethanol and other renewable fuels. But
overhauling immigration laws could prove the most controversial of his
domestic priorities, and would demand a level of bipartisan cooperation
that could be particularly difficult for him to muster given his weakened
political standing. Recognizing the challenge, he said Tuesday in an
interview with Charlie Rose, the PBS television host, that an immigration
bill would be a "bold stroke" in the closing 21 months of his
administration. But he is running out of time: Presidential politics in
2008 are more likely to pull the parties apart than bring them together.

Bush's proposal, which faces the prospect of modification in slow-moving
Senate talks, includes several elements recently added to increase the
appeal to those who have pressed for stricter enforcement of existing laws
mostly Republicans without losing Democratic support. These include
increasing by 53%, to 18,300, the number of Border Patrol agents working
on the Mexican border, a four-fold extension of the existing border fence,
and, most likely, requiring that anyone seeking a job in the United States
present secure identification. A key shift would drop a long-standing
practice of admitting immigrants seeking to join family members, instead
using employment needs to determine admission.

Besides the boost in border security and efforts to verify a job
applicant's legal status, the plan emphasizes creating a guest worker
program and efforts to bring into the open the estimated 12 million
illegal immigrants in the country. Before the speech, Bush attended a
closed-door luncheon at the home of Ed Easton, a businessman friend of
former Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother. According to Republican
National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, the gathering raised $1
million for the GOP. On Tuesday, Bush attended an RNC fundraiser in New
York City.

In the college speech, Bush acknowledged the opposition to Fidel Castro
that still fueled politics here, criticizing a "cruel dictatorship" that
"denies all freedom in the name of a dark and discredited ideology." He
said Castro's rule was nearing an end, and added: "In Cuba and across the
world, all who struggle for freedom have a friend in the United States,
and we will stand with them until the struggle is won."


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