U.S. lawmakers begin debate on reforming the nation's immigration laws in the coming week. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, President Bush wants bipartisan action on immigration reform while opposition Democrats continue to criticize his conduct of the war in Iraq.
At a time of deep partisan politics over the war in Iraq, President Bush says he is optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can come together this year on reforming immigration laws.
Leaders from both parties have been meeting at the White House and on Capitol Hill in the last month in hopes of building a consensus on the issue.
In his weekly radio address, President Bush said Republicans and Democrats understand that the current system needs reform and that reform must be bipartisan.
"We agree that we need a system where our laws are respected," said Mr. Bush. "We agree that we need a system that meets the legitimate needs of workers and employers. And we agree that we need a system that treats people with dignity and helps newcomers assimilate into our society."
The president says comprehensive immigration reform must improve border security, hold employers accountable for those they hire, and create a temporary worker program. He says the plan must also resolve the status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country and help them better assimilate into American culture.
Past efforts by the president to change U.S. immigration law were blocked by members of his own party, some of whom believe that giving any legal status to immigrants already in the country illegally amounts to an amnesty for people who have broken the law.
Most political observers believe Mr. Bush has a better chance of passing immigration reform with opposition Democrats now in charge of both the House and Senate.
So far, Democrats have largely used their Congressional majorities to try and force the president to change course in Iraq.
In the Democratic radio address, retired Air Force Major General Melvyn Montano criticized the president for vetoing legislation that included a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
"Our plan ensures U.S. troops have the resources they need to complete their mission. But the mission in Iraq itself must change," he said. "Our brave men and women in uniform should not continue to police a civil war."
Montano says only clear benchmarks to measure progress will force Iraq's government to be accountable for its own future.
Faced with growing opposition to the war from Republican moderates, President Bush says he agrees that benchmarks for performance are a good idea, but he rejects any notion that failing to meet those benchmarks should result in a reduction of funds for Iraq's government or the withdrawal of U.S. troops.