President Bush is renewing pressure on the U.S. Congress to approve his plan for a temporary guest worker program. The president says such a plan will improve border enforcement and free up agents to track down criminals, drug runners and others who pose a threat to the American public.
President Bush says border enforcement is crucial to national security. He says more money is needed to protect the borders, along with changes in immigration law.
"To defend this country, we have got to enforce our borders," he said. "When our borders are not secure, terrorists and drug dealers and criminals find it easier to come to America."
The president spoke as he prepared to sign legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security for the fiscal year that began October 1. The measure provides $30.8 billion for a wide range of activities. But the president focused his remarks almost exclusively on the area of border control.
He noted the bill sets aside funds to hire more border enforcement agents, improve technology and expand detention facilities to hold illegal immigrants from the time they are arrested until they are sent home.
But the president said this expansion of enforcement capability, while important, is not enough.
"As we improve and expand our efforts to secure our borders, we must also recognize that enforcement cannot work unless it is part of a larger, comprehensive immigration reform program," he said.
Mr. Bush has proposed a program that would match up employers who need to fill jobs no American will take with foreign workers. He said many of those who cross the border with Mexico illegally are simply looking for work. The president said a carefully drafted guest worker program would give them a way to enter the United States legally and then return home.
"I am going to work with members of Congress to create a program that can provide for our economy's labor needs without harming American workers, without providing amnesty, and that will improve our ability to control our borders," he said.
The president said, if done properly, a temporary worker program would not only help American employers and foreign workers, it would "ease pressure on the border."
"The fewer people trying to sneak in to work, means it is more likely we are going to catch drug smugglers, terrorists and drug runners," he said.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff made the case for immigration reform before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said tougher border security alone will not stop the flow of illegal immigrants, and a way must be found to help migrant workers gain temporary legal employment.