It’s Congress, though, that has taken the lead as it prepares to consider a host of immigration and border security measures in coming weeks, said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.
“He’s trying to play catch-up,” she said. “After coming out forcefully with a forward-thinking perspective on this, and an outline of a proposal, just too much time slipped by where he never put pen to paper and developed a proposal.”
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who greeted the president as he climbed down from Air Force One, said Washington needs to forge a compromise.
“At some point, all of these concepts need to come together and they need to act now,” Napolitano said. “Time’s a-wasting.”
The governor, who recently declared a state of emergency along the border, said she was glad the issue had the president’s attention, because “only Washington, D.C., can fix the border.”
The president’s speech presented no new details or strategies. He cited efforts to make the border secure and called again for a guest worker program, but did not address the issue of what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
“Americans should not have to choose between being a welcoming society and a law-abiding society,” the president said. “We can do both.”
He did not say how that would be accomplished.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva. D-Ariz., called Bush’s speech a disappointment for its lack of hard details on a temporary worker program and workplace enforcement.
“We had hoped that he was going to expend some political capital today and show some leadership,” he said.
The president kept the issue in play and recognized how the economy relies on immigration, said state Rep. Steve Huffman, a Northwest Side Republican.
“The guest worker program is controversial,” Huffman said. “This is really as much an economic problem as it is a law enforcement problem.”
Southern Arizona industries such as agriculture, tourism and construction rely on illegal immigrants to fill jobs that otherwise go begging, Huffman said.
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union, called Bush’s plan a rehash of ideas.
“This is just a perpetuation of the same policies that have failed for the last 80 years, because it ignores the reason people are crossing the border in the first place,” Bonner said in a telephone interview from San Diego.
Crack down on those who hire illegal immigrants, and that will dissuade businesses from hiring anyone without the right paperwork, Bonner said.
The trick, he said, is to eliminate the jobs and illegal immigrants who are already in the country, Graf said.
Kelley of the National Immigration Forum rarely agrees with Graf, but does on this point.
“Randy’s right,” Kelley said. “The only reference (the president) made was his support for increasing legal visas and that is significant. But that’s a major policy proposal, and it needs more than one sentence in a long speech.”
The president’s commitment to finding a solution to the immigration problem is sincere, Kelley said.
“This is an issue that he knows in his head and feels in his heart,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s an issue that he has put any muscle into.”