President Bush wants U.S. lawmakers to agree on comprehensive changes to American immigration laws aimed at both strengthening border security and offering long-time illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
President Bush is campaigning for immigration reform in hopes of laying the groundwork for a compromise between a Senate bill with a guest worker program and House legislation that would make illegal immigration a felony.
Despite those differences, Mr. Bush told community college students in Nebraska that there is no conflict between the rule of law and treating immigrants with respect.
"I know you probably look at Washington and think it is impossible to develop a consensus in Washington, D.C.," he said. "It probably seems that way, doesn't it, when you pay attention to all the sharp elbows being thrown and people opinionating and screaming and hollering and calling each other names. But there is a consensus emerging on this issue."
President Bush wants Congress to spend more money for new border fences and high-tech surveillance equipment as well as 6,000 more border patrol agents. He says the government will stop releasing captured illegal immigrants in hopes that they will show up for a court hearing. Instead, he says they will be detained or sent home.
"Once people understand that they can't come into our country illegally and they will be sent home when they try to, then they are not going to try in the first place. That is part of the strategy," he added.
The president says it is not possible to enforce the border without a rational way for people to do work that Americans are not doing. So he wants a temporary worker program that allows immigrants to work for two years before returning home.
As for those illegal immigrants who have been in America longer, President Bush says they should be offered a path to citizenship after paying a fine, learning English, proving regular employment, and passing a criminal background check.
"The right thing to do is to recognize that if you have been here illegally, that there ought to be a cost for doing so, but also recognize that there are decent hard working people who have contributed to our society at the same time," he said.
The president says those long-time illegal immigrants should go to the back of the citizenship line so as not to punish those who entered the country legally and are already waiting.
Either way, some opponents in the president's Republican Party say any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants amounts to an amnesty that rewards those who have broken the law.