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Bush Renews Call For US Immigration Reform


President Bush is making a renewed push for big changes in U.S. immigration laws. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports it is one major issue where Mr. Bush believes he can work well with the new Democratic Party majority in Congress.

The president says now is the time for comprehensive immigration reform.

"This is a matter of national interest and it is a matter of deep conviction for me," he said. "I have been working to bring Republicans and Democrats together to resolve outstanding issues so that Congress can pass a comprehensive bill and I can sign it into law this year."

Mr. Bush spoke in Yuma, Arizona, a town close to the U.S. border with Mexico. It is an area that sees numerous crossings - many of them by illegal immigrants trying to sneak into the United States without getting caught.

The president has said more needs to be done to enhance security on the border. And during his visit - the second to Yuma in less than a year - he saw some of the latest innovations in border enforcement.

He was briefed on the un-manned planes used for aerial surveillance, visited a patrol station, and inspected two layers of fencing recently erected along one segment of the border.

President Bush said enforcement is key.

"Past efforts at reform did not do enough to secure our nation's borders," he said. "As a result, many people have been able to sneak into this country. If you do not man your borders and do not protect your borders, people are going to sneak in and that is what has been happening for a long time."

But the president said enforcement is only part of the answer.

Once again, he stressed the need for a guest worker program, and steps that would enable some illegal immigrants to apply for legal status with strict conditions. Mr. Bush said that will help American employers who have jobs no one else will do, will free up border agents to chase criminals, and will curb abuses by smugglers who ask a high price for passage across the border often under horrific conditions.

"If you want to take the pressure off your border, have a temporary worker program," he said. "It will help reduce not only the number of people coming across the border, but it will do something about the inhumane treatment that these people are subjected to."

President Bush tried and failed to get a comprehensive reform package through Congress in the past legislative session when it was under the control of his Republican Party. It was blocked primarily by conservatives who wanted a focus strictly on tough enforcement measures. They pushed through a bill to fortify the border, which Mr. Bush signed last October.

Democrats have been more open to steps that would help would-be immigrants work in the country legally. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi has warned support among members of her party is not universal. And she has told the president she can not pass comprehensive reform without some Republican votes.

The president told a crowd of border agents and others in Yuma that he remains optimistic.

"We will continue to work with members of both political parties," he said. "I think the atmosphere up there is good right now. I think people generally want to come together and put a good bill together."

But hanging over the debate on immigration is the escalating dispute over funding for the Iraq war.

The dispute has soured relations between the White House and Congress, but Bush administration officials say they believe a good immigration bill is still possible.

A White House spokesman told reporters traveling to Yuma with the president that even though the war dominates the headlines, there is still of a lot of quiet work going on behind the scenes on issues like immigration.

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