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 will leave the country.
Until that happens, immigrants will keep trying to enter the country, he said.
“Businesses want an endless supply of cheap labor,” Bonner said. “Business likes the current system and every politician takes money from businesses.”
The president discussed a recent operation that netted “hundreds” of immigration arrests at a dozen businesses and led to fining Wal-Mart $12 million.
Bonner said $12 million isn’t enough to force Wal-Mart to change its ways.
Randy Graf, a Republican and former state legislator who is running for the seat GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe will vacate next year in Washington, said he’s skeptical of the president’s claim that a guest worker program wouldn’t amount to amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The president’s plan is short of specifics, Graf added.
“There’s still a lot of questions,” he said. “More questions than answers right now.”
The president’s speech failed to address what he would do with the 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.”
President highlights reforms that his budget underfunded
By Stephen Dinan and Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published November 29, 2005
Ending the catch-and-release policy for illegal aliens, as President Bush called for yesterday, will take years and far more than the current number of detention beds -- something Mr. Bush himself underfunded in his most recent budget to Congress.
The president, speaking in Tucson, Ariz., followed the lead of congressional Republicans who have told him that border security must be part of any immigration bill.
Mr. Bush also took credit for increases in border and interior enforcement spending, pitched his plan for future foreign workers and endorsed changing laws to allow for quicker deportation of some illegal aliens.
"I think the White House's view on this rhetorically at least has evolved," said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who has introduced a comprehensive immigration bill that resembles Mr. Bush's principles. "He brought all the components together, but the most important thing is they were built on the cornerstone of security, which is the message they've been receiving and we've all been receiving around the country."
But critics of Mr. Bush's immigration policy said he hasn't put any muscle behind the initiatives he touted.
"Why now? We've had five years," said Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies. "Why has it taken so long to get to an issue like this? And when he addresses it, he talks about things he himself doesn't support. He talks in vague generalities."
Mr. Bush said his administration has boosted U.S. Border Patrol agents and detention beds, which puts them on the way to ending the "catch-and-release" policy under which non-Mexican illegal aliens are processed and released into U.S. society on the usually false hope that they will return to be deported.
But Mr. Bush's budget submission in February called for just 210 more agents and fewer than 2,000 new detention beds -- each amount less than a quarter of the totals that Congress and Mr. Bush agreed to just two months earlier.
Congress was able to find money in two spending bills for 1,500 agents this fiscal year, bringing the total authorized to about 12,500, but was only able to fund 2,000 more detention beds, bringing the number to 20,000.
"He can't claim credit for increasing the number of Border Patrol agents," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. "This administration resisted it at every bend in the road and then finally went along with it when Congress passed it."
Critics said Mr. Bush also wrongly took credit for expanding the "Basic Pilot Program," which lets companies voluntarily check a work applicant's documents for validity. Congress passed a bill expanding the program from six states to nationwide, and although Mr. Bush signed the measure, lobbyists who tracked the issue said he put no legislative muscle behind it.
Mr. Cornyn, though, said Mr. Bush's signing the final spending bills to boost agents and detention beds is the real measure of the president's priorities.
"The president's initial budget submission is just that -- an initial presentation," he said. "I don't think anyone in Congress takes that initial presentation all that seriously in terms of priorities."
Those seeking broad legalization of the 11 million illegal aliens in the United States said Mr. Bush must push for more than border security.
"Overhauling our broken immigration system is both complex and urgent, and it will not be solved by an enforcement-only approach," said Eric M. Gutierrez, a spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Previous attempts at 'get-tough' enforcement measures have led to increases in human trafficking, false documentations, and tragically, thousands of preventable deaths in the desert."
But Chris Bauder, president of the San Diego chapter of the Border Patrol council, said the key is to dry up illegals' access to jobs, which will take better interior enforcement.
"When it came to the employer enforcement end of it, it was so broad and general it was the same we've heard," he said, adding that Mr. Bush's focus on the border ignores the real problem -- and solution. "It sounds great, but again, all of it's unnecessary if they just focused on the employers."
Mr. Bush did tout workplace enforcement, saying he has increased investigators by 14 percent since 2001 and highlighting 2003's Operation Rollback, which he called the "largest work site enforcement case in American history."
But actual work site arrests of illegal aliens have fallen every year of his administration, from 953 in 2000 to 159 in 2004. Last year, the federal government issued just three notices of intent to fine companies for employing illegal aliens, down from 178 in 2000.
Randy Graf, a Republican congressional candidate in Arizona who attended yesterday's speech, said Mr. Bush also didn't answer key questions about what will happen to illegal aliens already in the United States.
"I still come away with that nagging suspicion it's hard to try to implement this entire package at the same time," he said. "I believe the people in this district, this state and across the country want to see the people step up and do the actual enforcement."
'Return every illegal entrant we catch'
Guest-worker plan is touted in speech at Davis-Monthan
By Mitch Tobin and Lourdes Medrano
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
America can both welcome immigrants and punish those who enter the country illegally, President Bush said here Monday in his latest push for a guest-worker program coupled with beefed-up border security.
Bush didn't reveal new details about his guest-worker proposal in a 26-minute speech inside a hangar at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The president also didn't choose favorites among the host of proposals in Congress that deal with border and immigration issues.
Bush did talk tough about illegal immigrants, first highlighting how they burden hospitals, schools and law enforcement in border states, then pledging to "promptly return every illegal entrant we catch at the border, with no exceptions."
"America has always been a compassionate nation that values the newcomer and takes great pride in our immigrant heritage, yet we're also a nation built on the rule of law," Bush told hundreds of supporters. "The American people should not have to choose between a welcoming society and a lawful society. We can have both at the same time."
Flanked by Customs and Border Protection helicopters and backed up by more than 40 uniformed members of the Department of Homeland Security, Bush said he wants to step up deportation of border crossers, crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants and add more agents and equipment along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Previously, the administration has outlined a guest-worker program that would let illegal immigrants obtain three-year work visas. Workers could extend the visas for another three years, but they would then have to return to their home countries for a year to apply for new work permits.
"By creating a legal channel for those who enter America to do an honest day's labor, we would reduce the number of workers trying to sneak across the border," Bush said. "This would free up law enforcement officials to focus on criminals, drug dealers, terrorists and others that mean to harm us."
The guest-worker proposal is backed by businesses that need foreign employees, but it is anathema to conservatives in Bush's own party who describe it as an amnesty program that encourages illegal immigration. Bush rejected that view, declaring, "I'm not going to sign an immigration bill that includes amnesty."
That statement earned praise from former state lawmaker Randy Graf, who plans to run for the seat to be vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe in next year's GOP primary. But the president's guest-worker program "raises a lot more questions that it answers," Graf said.
A guest-worker program should be part of a comprehensive reform plan, said Farrell Quinlan, a spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.
"That will not only help fill labor needs, but also serve as a way to solve this problem of 11 million people living in the shadows," he said. "We don't want to drive them further underground."
The Senate is expected to take up immigration issues early next year. Bush praised Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl as "two good men taking the lead," but the president didn't say which of their bills he favors.
McCain and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., support legislation that would allow illegal border crossers to work in the United States for up to six years. Kyl and John Cornyn, R-Texas, are backing a plan that would force illegal entrants to first return to their home countries to apply for guest-worker permits.
In a statement, Kyl highlighted Bush's comments that participants in a guest-worker program must go back home at the end of their allotted time.
"This is critical to both avoid the taint of amnesty for those who have broken the law, as well as preserve the flexibility of a guest-worker program to fluctuate along with the needs of the U.S. economy," Kyl said.
Jim Pederson, the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party who plans to challenge Kyl next year, said in a statement, "When it comes to protecting our border, Arizonans deserve more than a photo op with the president."
Bush visited Tucson for just 90 minutes, flying in from Waco, Texas, after spending nearly a week at his nearby ranch, then leaving on Air Force One for a Phoenix fund-raiser for Kyl.
Members of the press pool saw less than two minutes of Bush's briefing with Border Patrol officials. Bush sat at a long table with members of Arizona's congressional delegation, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar stood before easels holding charts and maps.
"Control is achievable," Aguilar told Bush about the cross-border traffic.
In his speech, Bush said the nation has "a chance to move beyond the old and tired choices of the immigration debate." But the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents said Bush's address was "a lot of the same tired rhetoric we've seen for a long time."
"Baby steps and band-aids" is how T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council described Bush's list of new security measures along the border.
"A thousand new agents isn't going to make much of a difference at all," Bonner said, unless the nation decides "we're not going to tolerate the hiring of illegal aliens in this country."
Bush pledged to expand an "interior repatriation" policy, in which illegal immigrants are sent home, rather than dropped off in border towns where they can easily try again to sneak into the United States.
The president also promised to end the so-called "catch and release" policy, in which non-Mexican border crossers are set free and asked to appear at a court hearing. About one-quarter actually show up in court, Bush said, so only 30,000 of the 160,000 non-Mexicans caught crossing the Southwestern border were sent home last year.
"It is an unwise policy, and we're going to end it," Bush said to applause.
The government hopes to end "catch and release" by increasing the number of beds in detention facilities and speeding up the processing and deportation of illegal immigrants.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat, said he was disappointed that Bush failed to outline a specific plan involving the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
"Saying 'I am not for amnesty' does not deal with the issue," Grijalva said.
"I'm not going to support a guest-worker program that brings in laborers, creates a whole new underclass and gives them and their families no rights," he said.
Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, blasted Bush's references to his guest-worker program.
"This is an amnesty on a six-year time delay," said Mehlman, whose group supports a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Isabel Garcia, a leader of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos, a Tucson human-rights group, said Bush's speech was a continuation of his administration's failed policies, which serve only to "create insecurity, instability and death on the border."
The Arizona Daily Star researched some of the factual statements made by President Bush during his speech here on Monday. It found:
The president said that since he took office, more than 350,000 illegal border entrants with criminal records have been removed from the country.
Although figures for his entire tenure weren't immediately available, federal deportation figures for the last three years indicate nearly 250,000 criminal illegal entrants were removed, indicating the president's figures were probably on target.
The president said more than 85 percent of illegal entrants are from Mexico.
While that many may enter through Mexico, research indicates only about 57 percent are from Mexico. Another 24 percent are from other Latin American countries, 9 percent are Asian, 6 percent are European or Canadian, and 4 percent are from Africa.
The president said only 8 percent of illegal entrants who are returned to the interior of Mexico are caught re-entering the United States.
A government evaluation of the "interior repatriation" program put the figure slightly higher, at 10 percent.
The president said about four of five non-Mexican illegal entrants are released and asked to appear in court later on their own, and 75 percent of them don't show up.
News and other reports put the numbers even higher, at about 85 percent released on their own recognizance, with the no-show rate even higher than 75 percent - as high as 98 percent in some jurisdictions.
The president said a new program this summer cut Brazilian illegal immigration by 50 percent.
News reports this month citing federal reports indicated illegal immigration from Brazil this year was actually triple what it was last year.
The president said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared illegal immigrants have a right to re-litigate in immigration court as many times as they want.
The 9th Circuit last year did strike down a provision allowing previously deported entrants to be summarily removed from the country without a court hearing. The ruling applies only in the nine states within the 9th Circuit.
Agents' uniforms raise concerns
BY DAVE MONTGOMERY
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - T.J. Bonner isn't quite comfortable in his olive-green Border Patrol uniform, but his misgivings have nothing to do with the fit or appearance. He's mad about the label: "Made in Mexico."
"It's embarrassing to be protecting the U.S.-Mexico border and be wearing a uniform made in Mexico," says Bonner, a San Diego-based agent and president of the 6,500-member agents union, the National Border Patrol Council.
For more than a year, the men and women responsible for combating illegal immigration have been wearing uniforms manufactured south of the border. In addition to the symbolism, they say, the outsourcing to Mexico poses national security risks if some of the uniforms fall into the hands of criminals or potential terrorists.
Consequently, some members of Congress insist that it's time to change labels.
With House members preparing to consider tough new immigration and border security measures after the Thanksgiving congressional break, Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., says he plans to push for a measure requiring that the uniforms be made in the United States. "Made in America, baby," Renzi adds for emphasis.
Rep. John Carter of Texas, who plans to join Renzi in pushing for the restriction, said he shares the Arizona lawmaker's concerns that smugglers or Mexican gang members could steal a batch of uniforms and penetrate the already porous 1,951-mile-long border between Mexico and four states in the Southwest.
"If we're manufacturing uniforms in Mexico, what's to stop someone from walking across the border in a Border Patrol uniform?" Carter, a Republican, said in a telephone interview last week from his district office. "How do you know who are our guys and who are their guys?"
The uniforms are supplied through VF Solutions of Nashville, Tenn., under a contract that allows the apparel company to subcontract its work to plants in the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Dominican Republic. The contract authorizes the company to provide shirts and pants for agents and inspectors with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a branch of the Homeland Security Department.
"The principle of it seems almost like an oxymoron," said James Stack of Alamogordo, N.M., the National Border Patrol Council's vice president for a region that includes Texas and New Mexico. "Most agents don't like it."
Company officials did not return phone calls last week to discuss the contract. But customs officials have said they maintain rigid security procedures, including on-site inspections at the Mexican plant, and have detected no security breaches or misuse of uniforms.
U.S. officials conducted a "security and quality assurance review" at the plant in August, according to a statement last week from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Washington headquarters.
"Based on this review, a report will be submitted to the CBP commissioner for determination on the made-in-Mexico issue, and no decisions have been made at this point," the statement said.
Security concerns raised by the foreign-made uniforms will likely amplify an already heated debate as President Bush and Congress work toward toughening border security and seek ways to reverse the flow of illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico.
An estimated 11 million illegal immigrants are living in the United States, including 1.4 million in Texas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
While most of the immigrants are job-seekers looking for much higher incomes in the U.S. economy, experts say the illegal flow also includes gang members and fugitives from Mexican justice who might welcome a chance to get their hands on a Border Patrol uniform.
Lawmakers also worry that unscrupulous gang members might help sneak terrorists into the country if the price is right.
"Who's going to miss a few dozen uniforms?" said Bonner, the union president. "That could be very dangerous to the agents. You see a uniform, and you assume that's one of the good guys."
Renzi said he hopes to persuade Republican House leaders to include the made-in-America requirement as part of an immigration enforcement measure expected to be introduced by House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., in early December.
Approximately 11,200 Border Patrol agents are deployed along the 6,000 miles of border separating the United States from Mexico and Canada. Although 1,000 agents will be added under a measure signed last month by the president, lawmakers are calling for thousands of additional agents, as well as other steps, to further secure the borders.
Carter said the Mexican-made uniforms constitute not only a security risk but represent another example of work leaving the United States to go to cheaper labor markets elsewhere.
"It's a security issue as well as an economic issue," he said.
Bonner, an agent for more than 27 years, said members of his union have complained repeatedly after uniforms began arriving with made-in-Mexico labels.
"They're not happy about this, but what are they supposed to do?" he said. "You can't boycott and not wear a uniform."